AP Farm WriterWASHINGTON (AP) -- While a Democratic-backed overhaul of farm subsidies waits in the Senate, President Bush called for "generous but affordable" farm legislation Wednesday that adheres to budget limits and gives farmers a safety net without sparking the overproduction of crops.
Separately, his agriculture secretary said the Democrats' bill, which Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle planned to bring to a vote late this week or next week, raises subsidy rates so much it could encourage such overproduction and drive down commodity prices.
"This creates pressure for more government payments, thereby creating a self-defeating and ultimately unsustainable cycle," said Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman.
The pair's remarks to a farm convention meeting in Washington marked the Bush administration's first substantive comments on the Senate farm bill, which faces a Republican filibuster.
The administration favors a GOP alternative that has lower subsidy rates and would provide assistance to a broader range of farmers. The Republican plan would set up subsidized IRA-style savings accounts that would allow farmers to sock away income in good years to use when crops or prices are poor.
"A good farm bill should keep a safety net under our food producers without misleading our farmers into overproducing crops that are already in oversupply," Bush said.
"A good farm bill should be generous but affordable. It should honor the budget limits that Congress has agreed to live by."
Existing farm programs don't expire until next fall, but Daschle says growers need the assistance that would be provided by the Senate bill. He also raised concerns about whether the Agriculture Department would have time to write rules for new programs if Congress doesn't finish the legislation soon.
"I don't think you can emphasize enough the urgency with which we need to address farm legislation," said Daschle, D-S.D.
Democrats forced their bill through the Senate Agriculture Committee earlier this month after giving Southern senators more money for big farms and adding a dairy program that could raise retail milk prices.
Some farm groups are concerned that there will be less money available for their subsidies if Congress waits until next year to reauthorize the 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 the GOP subsidy plan and a move by environmentalists to shift billions in crop subsidies into conservation programs.
Either the House or Senate bill would cost about $170 billion over the next 10 years. The Senate legislation, however, would have to be renewed in five years.
To win approval from the Senate committee's Southern Democrats, Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, dropped his effort to cut payments to big grain and cotton farms, added money for rice and peanuts and offered new subsidies for lentils and chickpeas.
------The Senate bill is S.1628.
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