The Clinton administration is pressuring Republicans to fatten their farm bailout, threatening to veto any aid package "inconsistent" with a $7.3 billion plan sought by Democrats in the Midwest.
Republicans have offered $3.9 billion, geared more to drought-stricken growers in the South and without a big boost in price supports that Democrats want.The government predicts farm income will drop nearly 16 percent this year to $42 billion as the agricultural economy suffers through its worst downturn in more than a decade. A worldwide grain glut has pushed commodity prices to their lowest levels in memory.
In a letter to congressional leaders, the White House budget office did not mention the GOP plan but said Congress must provide "income-based assistance consistent" with the president's proposal, including the increase in price supports. Clinton's senior advisers will urge the president to veto any legislation that falls short, the letter said.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota said Clinton "is putting the full force of the administration behind our position, which in my mind is very, very encouraging." Daschle mustered 41 votes for his proposal earlier this month, too few to pass it but more than enough to sustain a veto.
Republicans, who may bring their plan to a vote next week, accused Clinton of playing politics. He "has continually ignored the needs of farmers and now that we have a viable plan to lessen the impact of the crisis, he threatens to veto it," said Oregon Rep. Bob Smith, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.
At issue is both the level of help and how and where it should be provided.
Democrats want to give farmers an extra $5 billion through a program that subsidizes growers when commodity prices fall below set levels. Wheat growers would get 57 cents a bushel more, corn producers 28 cents.
Republicans fear those subsidies would encourage overproduction, and they say it does nothing to help farmers in the South who don't have a crop to sell.
The GOP plan includes $1.7 billion in direct payments to all growers; $1.5 billion in disaster relief for this year's crop losses; and $675 million that would mostly go to growers in the upper Midwest who have suffered a series of crop failures over the past five years.
The administration wants more money for the multiyear problem and less for 1998 losses.
GOP leaders are unlikely to add any money to the package unless there's new evidence that conditions have worsened, said Chris Matthews, a spokesman for the House Agriculture Committee.