Leahy at center of effort to revise farm bill

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(Host) Congress updates national agriculture policy every five years in the farm bill, which finally passed the Senate earlier this month.

But the ultimate fate of the bill will be decided by negotiations in a conference committee.

And much of the responsibility for resolving differences with the House will lie with Senator Patrick Leahy, who helped write the bill.

He’s now part of a group who has to come up with a bipartisan bill the president can sign.

VPR’s Sara Sciammacco has more from Washington.

(Sciammacco) The Farm Bill passed in the Senate and House. The Bush administration criticized both versions. And now Leahy and other Agriculture Committee lawmakers have to come up with a bill the president will accept.

(Leahy) "You know we haven’t even begun on that. That is going to be after the first of the year when we start working on the Farm bill. As you know this is a bill that has traditionally been written more in conference than on the floor. "

(Sciammacco) It took six months to get the bill off the floor. President Bush says neither the House nor Senate bill does enough to reform farm policies. Right now, farmers making up to $2.5 million a year can still get farm subsidies.

The House wants to cut that number to $1 million. The Senate voted on $750,000. President Bush wants to go even further – down to $200,000. Leahy says it will have to be worked out in conference committee.

(Leahy) "There’s a lot of work we are going to have to do. We are going to have to bring down costs of some of the programs. We are going to have to have some more innovative programs that are going to have to be there."

(Sciammacco) Both bills expand nutrition programs. That should help pay for the 47,000 Vermonters who get food stamps each month. The Senate bill extends and expands a dairy price support program – which gives farmers help if milk prices drop. And Leahy say there is even money to pay for conservation programs.

(Leahy) "Environmental Quality Incentive Program, EQIP, is important in Vermont — a major factor in our efforts to clean-up Lake Champlain. I had hoped for more money on this, but I understand tight budgets."

(Sciammacco) The conference committee is faced with a tough decision when it comes to paying for the $300 billion bill. The Senate voted on a measure that tightens rules on corporate tax shelters. The House included a tax provision on foreign companies that do business in the U.S. Oklahoma Republican Frank Lucas, who helped write the House bill, hopes to kill that provision in conference committee.

(Lucas) "I don’t believe that will be in the conference committee report. If that’s the case that takes up one of the red flags the White House is concerned about. The bill the President sees won’t be the Senate version. It won’t be the House version. It will be the conference committee version."

(Sciammacco) Some Agriculture Committee members say President Bush is more likely to sign the bill than veto it. Lawmakers hope to have a bill on the President’s desk by the end of January.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Sara Sciammacco on Capitol Hill

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