Bush threatens veto of Senate's $7.5 billion farm bill

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WASHINGTON (AP) The White House is threatening to veto a $7.5 billion farm aid package under consideration in the Senate because it would spend $2 billion more than the administration says is necessary.

The White House issued a statement of administration policy Monday that said $5.5 billion, the amount approved by the House, ''is more than adequate.''

Over Republican objections, the Agriculture Committee approved the $7.5 billion bill last week, and on Monday the Democrat-controlled Senate decided to bring it to the floor Tuesday.

The Senate also was to consider on Tuesday a $5.5 billion alternative offered by the committee's senior Republican, Richard Lugar, R-Ind.

Democrats said the $7.5 billion measure was a fair response to problems on the farm.

''Without the assistance that's in this bill, tens of thousands are in danger or going out of business,'' said the Agriculture Committee chairman, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.

The Agriculture Department estimates net farm income this year at $42.4 billion, $2.8 billion below last year. The 2001 estimate does not include the supplemental assistance the Senate is considering.

In its statement, the White House said ''improvements in agricultural markets and stronger livestock and crop prices mean that the need for additional federal assistance continues to diminish.''

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., has said he is determined to send President Bush a final version of the bill by the end of this week, when Congress is scheduled to begin its monthlong August recess. Unless the $5.5 billion in the bill is spent by the time fiscal year 2001 ends Sept. 30, Congress will be unable to provide the money.

The extra $2 billion in the Senate bill would come from the fiscal 2002 budget. Even so, spending it will make it that much harder for Bush and Congress to live within next year's budget without eating into Medicare surpluses, which Democrats and many Republicans in Congress consider politically risky.

Beyond the spending fight, another battle is expected over efforts by northeastern senators to extend the Northeast Dairy Compact. That 1996 law, which expires Sept. 30, lets those states set wholesale milk prices above federal levels. That is bitterly opposed by lawmakers from midwestern dairy states.

The Senate bill contains $5.5 billion for direct payments to grain and cotton farmers, almost $900 million more than the House approved.

In addition, the Senate measure includes $542 million for conservation programs, $150 million for apple growers, $53 million for sugar growers, and $20 million to subsidize some older Americans who shop at farmers markets.

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