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Published February 2, 2008 12:01 PM

Bush Threatens Farm Bill Veto: Opposes Public Nutrition, Biofuel and Land Stewardship Programs

WASHINGTON, Jan 30 (Reuters) - President George W. Bush opposes raising taxes to pay for increases in several programs in the new U.S. farm law, the top U.S. agriculture official said on Wednesday, as he underscored crafting a new farm bill as his top priority while in office.

Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer, in his first sit-down with reporters since he was confirmed on Monday, said President Bush has told him now is the time to act on farm policy.

"The president comes from an agriculture state and he understands agriculture," said Schafer, who met with Bush on Tuesday. "It's time for some good reforms. The president feels real strongly about that."

The White House has threatened to veto the five-year, $286 billion bill if it raises taxes or fails to end crop subsidies to the wealthiest Americans. Negotiators from the House and Senate are poised to write a bill blending legislation from each chamber.

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Schafer said Bush strongly opposes a provision in the House and Senate farm bill that pays for larger public nutrition, biofuel and land stewardship programs. Congress said it gets the billions in new revenue by closing loopholes, but the administration said it amounts to tax increases.

House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson has said that unless the House and Senate can come to an agreement on a new farm bill soon, supports for milk, cotton and grain would double from current rates as specified in a 1949 law. Peanuts, rice, sugar and soybeans are not guaranteed a safety net.

Schafer said reverting back to the 1949 law would have "huge ramifications" in delivering programs, in the price of food and in the ability to deliver nutrition programs.

"This is a very serious situation if it were to happen," said Schafer. "I'm sure Representative Peterson, when he becomes aware of the ramifications of allowing that to happen, will see the proper course of action and not allow it."  ...

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