The Senate Farm Bill

Congress is back in session this week after a four-week recess. During that time, there was much discussion about why the Senate failed to complete action on a farm bill before the recess, and what action the Senate would take once they went back into session. As you know, the House passed a farm bill last October, and those of us who pushed hard to make that happen were especially frustrated when the Senate failed to complete action this past December. There is a crisis facing U.S. agriculture and rural America, and it is critical that Congress complete action on a farm bill as soon as possible. Given that 2002 is an election year, it is safe to say that many senators are looking for ways to get a farm bill passed. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott have indicated that completing a farm bill this year is a high priority. On January 24, Senator Daschle said he plans to complete work on the farm bill before the President’s Day Congressional recess that will run from February 18-22. In addition, and equally important, the Bush administration has expressed the desire to pass the farm bill quickly. Last month after much debate, the farm bill was pulled from further Senate action when many senators hesitated to accept the bill that had been passed by the Senate Agriculture Committee. Right now there is a new focus on the farm bill’s impact on trade policy. Concerns have been raised that the farm bill might provide too much money in crop subsidies and that this might possibly violate world trade rules. The University of Missouri’s Food and Agriculture Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) projected a 30 percent chance that the Senate bill would exceed trade rules that limit spending on trade-distorting subsidies. FAPRI also predicted that the House farm fill has a 33 percent chance of breaking spending limits within the next few years. Those of us in the House will be carefully following Senate action on the farm bill debate, and I will have more to report in the weeks ahead. Congressman Stenholm represents the 17th District of Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives and is the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Agriculture.

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