WASHINGTON – Making the call to put agriculture before energy, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said Tuesday the Senate will vote on a 10-year $73.5 billion farm bill in the coming week.
"I don't think you can emphasize enough the urgency with which we need to address farm legislation," Daschle said, explaining why the energy bill will not be voted on until next year.
The Democratic bill -- forced through the Senate Agriculture Committee earlier this month -- gives Southern senators more money for big grain and cotton farms and adds subsidies for lentils, chickpeas, and a dairy program that could raise retail milk prices.
The administration is not at all pleased with the Democratic bill.
President Bush favors a GOP alternative which has lower subsidy rates and would provide assistance to a broader range of farmers.
The administration is primarily concerned with subsidies that lock farmers into overproducing and make it harder to get a fair deal on the world market. President Bush told farmers Wednesday that he also supports farm savings accounts to help farmers in bad times and conservation policies that keep the land viable.
"The success of agriculture contributes to the strength of this nation. It is in our national interests, in our national security interests that we have a strong farm economy. And the farmers of America contribute to the values or our nation and to the generosity of our nation," Bush told a group of farmers Wednesday.
Existing farm programs don't expire for nearly a year, but some farm groups said they are concerned that there will be less money available if Congress waits to reauthorize their programs.
"It's time to provide some certainty and stability to our producers," said Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.
The measure faces a series of amendments on the Senate floor, including an alternative subsidy plan backed by Republicans and a move by environmentalists to shift billions in crop subsidies into conservation programs.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.