A House-Senate conference committee resumed negotiations Tuesday for the first time in nearly a month, but nothing much was accomplished as disagreements quickly stalled talks.

Senate Democrats believe the bulk of farm payments should be tied to swings in crop prices and production. House negotiators and the Bush administration say more money should go toward fixed annual payments.

“At the end of the day, we've got to settle this,” said the lead Senate negotiator, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.

The lawmakers also disagree over a Senate-passed plan to create a $2 billion subsidy program for dairy farmers. Much of the money would go to farmers in the Northeast as compensation for the end of a regional price-setting system.

Despite the differences, the lawmakers will resume negotiations today and have planned a session for Thursday also.

The administration has been critical of both the House version passed last fall and the Senate version which was finally passed in February.

Chuck Conner, the White House's farm policy specialist, told negotiators Tuesday the Senate Democrats' subsidy plan would stimulate excess crop production and could leave farmers with too little money if widespread crop failures should occur.

The negotiators agreed in March on overall spending levels for a compromise bill, but talks have been stalled on a long list of disagreements involving rules for everything from farm subsidies to food stamps.

The centerpiece of the Senate subsidy plan is an increase in subsidy rates, known as “loan rates,” for corn, wheat, cotton, rice and soybeans. The House bill would keep the subsidy rates roughly the same and instead put more money into payment programs that are not tied to annual changes in farm production.

Democrats say that too much of the fixed payments favored by Republicans go to landowners, rather than farmers. Republicans say the higher crop subsidies favored by Democrats would stimulate excess crop production.
The new bill would replace a law enacted in early April 1996, scheduled to expire this fall. Farm groups say the subsidies authorized by that law are inadequate and have been pressing Congress to enact new programs for this year's crops.

Leaders of a House-Senate conference committee said they hoped to finish work on a compromise farm bill by the end of the month.

Associated Press