Congress Extends Farm Bill as Wrangling Continues

Congress approved another one-week extension to the current farm law Thursday to give legislators more time to negotiate a new five-year program. Debate over the new program is stalled, and the White House has suggested the alternative of extending the current farm laws for another year.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

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The Farm Bill isn't just about helping farmers. Much of it provides aid to poorer Americans. And that's at the heart of a struggle over getting a new bill approved that's been long stalled in Congress. That bill provides for five more years of aid valued at $290 billion.

NPR's Brian Naylor has more.

BRIAN NAYLOR: Congress has been locked up in negotiations over the Farm Bill for months, every so often passing an extension of the current law to give the negotiators a bit more time. The latest one week overtime period was approved yesterday. The top Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, said one more week probably won't be enough, but that negotiators are making progress. Really.

Senator SAXBY CHAMBLISS (Republican, Georgia): We are very close, and I think there is the opportunity to get this done. And it's not going to be done -completed within the next week, but I have no problem with a one week extension because I do think that it will keep the pressure on, and it will require us to ultimately get something done.

NAYLOR: The White House will grudgingly go along with the latest one week extension. Spokesman Scott Stanzel reiterated the president's belief that lawmakers should put aside the bill they're working on, which the White House believes is too generous to farmers, and simply extend the current law for a year.

That didn't go over well with the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin.

(Soundbite of audio)

Senator TOM HARKIN (Democrat, Iowa): The president is not doing us any favors by the White House issuing a statement that we should have a one-year extension.

NAYLOR: Harkin says a one-year extension of the current law will short change low income Americans who rely on food stamps and other nutrition programs which comprise the biggest part of the Farm Bill.

(Soundbite of audio)

Sen. HARKIN: Low-income people are hurting in this country. Well, with a one year extension, we give no relief at all to low income families.

NAYLOR: Harkin says negotiators have agreed to increase funding for nutrition by $10 billion over the life of the bill, money that would be lost if current law were extended. Still, negotiators show little sign of progress of settling the biggest obstacles to an agreement, which are about funding for the various subsidies and tax credits lawmakers want to tack on to the bill. They include items such as a quicker tax depreciation for race horses and aid to the timber industry.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.

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