Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said Thursday that the Farm Bill may not come up for debate in the Senate until next week.

Democratic Senators were hopeful that they could get to the bill this week and perhaps even pass a final version by the end of the week. However, as of Thursday, the Senate was still finishing work on a railroad pension bill and Republicans were pushing to start debate on an energy bill that includes a provision to drill for oil in currently protected areas of Alaska. However, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., has yet to put the energy bill on the calendar for debate.

Daschle contends that a new farm subsidy law is vital for the economic health of rural America and must be passed this year. But Republicans have threatened to delay work in the Senate until they are given a vote on the energy bill.

Despite the difference of opinion over what legislation should take precedence for debate in the Senate, and President Bush’s recent negative comments about the increased level of farm subsidy payments within the current Farm Bill, Harkin said he remains unruffled and noted that the President did not threaten a veto. “I think this may be the time to do the Farm Bill, before people go home,” he said. “We’ve got to hold their feet to the fire.”

Reuters, Des Moines Register