Nonfarm proposals stall agriculture bill

Washington_Senators are using the farm bill to make political points on immigration, taxes and other nonagricultural issues, potentially stalling the $286 billion legislation.

Both sides are blaming one another in a procedural dispute that has lasted more than a week and left the Senate at a standstill. Many senators see the bill, which would extend agriculture and nutrition programs, as a last chance to push their priorities before lawmakers go home at the end of the year.

"I'm very disappointed that it appears quite likely there will be no farm bill," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Wednesday. He blamed Republicans for attempting to add unrelated items to the bill.

Republicans say they are frustrated that Reid has said he will only allow certain amendments. Reid said Republicans are overreaching by offering proposals that have nothing to do with agriculture. He cited measures that would prevent illegal immigrants from obtaining a driver's licenses and "at least six or seven amendments" dealing with the alternative minimum tax.

Reid said majority Democrats will try to force action later in the week by voting to cut off debate, a move that requires the votes of 60 of the 100 senators. The Senate is then expected to recess this weekend for the two-week Thanksgiving break.

Democrats, too, have offered amendments that do not pertain to agriculture, including some dealing with immigration. Last week, some Democrats were threatening to use the bill to start a debate on the Iraq war.

"I am a little perplexed as to whether or not the majority actually wants this bill to pass and is trying to simply blame the minority for trying to bring it down," Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

According to Senate aides, other amendments would deal with digital television, the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, medical malpractice and protecting children from online predators.

The politically popular bill has run into other objections from some Senate conservatives who say it pays too much to producers when crop prices are high and does not do enough to limit subsidies to wealthy farmers. The White House has threatened to veto it over spending issues, as President Bush did when the House farm bill passed in July.

The chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin, threw the blame back on the GOP.

"We are seeing a pattern in the Republican leadership - while the administration threatens a veto, congressional leadership stalls," Harkin said. "This must end, and if it doesn't end this week, then we will revisit it when we come back next month."

Mary Clare Jalonick, AP Writer © 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.