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Negotiators OK Farm Bill; Bush Vows Veto

As House and Senate negotiators at long last reached a final agreement on a new farm bill, President Bush vowed to veto the measure, according to Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer.

Members of the Senate and House conference committee have been working for a month to resolve their numerous differences on the measure, versions of which were approved by each chamber last year.

The two chambers plan to take a formal vote on their compromise bill soon, potentially as early as this week. Two-thirds of the money of the five-year bill would go to public nutrition programs, such as food stamps.

"If this bill makes it to my desk, I will veto it," President George W. Bush said in a statement, criticizing the bill for overspending and offering too little reform. "In the absence of a good farm bill, I call on Congress to extend current law for at least one year."

Nutrition programs would get a $10.3 billion increase in funding over 10 years under the bill. Land stewardship would get an additional $4 billion, specialty crops $1.35 billion and biofuel development $1.2 billion. Crop insurance and crop supports would be cut.
With food prices forecast to rise by 4.5 percent this year, anti-hunger groups say the bill will help poor Americans buy food. It would adjust the food stamp formula, resulting in slightly larger benefits, and increase federal donations to food pantries.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) supports both President Bush's threat to veto the bill and his call for a one-year extension.

"Despite record farm prices and wealth, farm bill negotiators missed a rare opportunity to reform farm subsidies to help many more farmers, consumers and communities, and to meet our commitments to our trading partners," GMA president and c.e.o. Cal Dooley said in a letter sent to Capitol Hill.

"USDA reports that net farm income will top $92 billion in 2008 - well above the 10-year average of $61 billion - and large commercial farmers will earn nearly $300,000 annually. Nevertheless, farm bill negotiators included no meaningful limits on who can receive subsidies or the amount a producer can receive.  In fact, Congress increased subsidies for some farmers, including costly new subsidies and protections for sugar producers that will increase the cost of food at a time of record food inflation.

"Although we strongly support efforts to increase funding for anti-hunger assistance programs," GMA's letter continued, "we urge legislators to reduce direct payments and other subsidies to make these long overdue investments."
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