MARY CLARE JALONICK Associated Press Writer WASHINGTON
President Bush on Tuesday criticized a farm bill that has stalled in Congress, pressuring lawmakers to cut the bill's price tag or pass a one-year extension of current law. Bush said the legislation would increase spending by at least $16 billion at a time of record farm income. "The farm bill proposal currently being discussed by conferees would fail several important tests that I have set forth," the president said. "With record farm income, now is not the time for Congress to ask other sectors of the economy to pay higher taxes to increase the size of government." Farm legislation passed by the House and Senate last year would cost roughly $280 billion over five years, with around twothirds of the cost going to food stamps and other nutrition programs. Negotiations have been messy as lawmakers from the House and Senate are squabbling over how to pay for the legislation and are facing a tight deadline. Current law expires Friday, after Bush reluctantly agreed to a seven-day extension last week. House and Senate negotiators have suggested a number of different ways to come up with an extra $10 billion needed for the bill, including some ideas the White House has backed previously. But administration officials have rejected most of their ideas, saying they would rather use the money for other priorities. Also holding up the bill is a larger tax package that was added to the bill to help pay for it and to win votes in the Senate. Bush said the high cost of the bill is "masked in part by budgetary gimmicks and funded in part by additional tax revenues." "These tax revenue provisions are unacceptable, including tax compliance initiatives being considered by the House and Senate conference committee," said Bush. "As important, the proposal also lacks the important reforms I've repeatedly called for. " Bush, who has threatened to veto both bills, has criticized the legislation for paying too many subsidies to wealthy farmers at a time of record crop prices. He said it appeared unlikely Congress would produce an acceptable bill by Friday, and he urged the House and Senate to "provide our agricultural producers with the certainty to make sound business and planting decisions about this year's crop by extending current law for at least one year." Farm-state lawmakers and farm groups are opposed to an extension because both the House and Senate bills expand subsidies for many crops. Negotiators met again Tuesday but reported little progress. "It is true we are not there yet but we are getting a lot closer," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana, who is working with the House to come up with financing.