U.S. farm bill extended; President Bush criticizes Congress

By Susanne Retka Schill | April 08, 2008
Web exclusive posted May 2, 2008 at 5:35 p.m. CST

Congress voted to extend farm programs once again May 1, this time extending the existing programs through May 16. U.S. President George W. Bush signed the legislation May 2 without comment. It was the sixth extension of the existing farm bill since March 12 as the U.S. House and Senate work out differences between versions and find funding to cover new provisions.

Earlier in the week during a press conference Bush blasted Congress's work on the farm bill. "Americans are concerned about rising food prices," he said. "Unfortunately, Congress is considering a massive, bloated farm bill that would do little to solve the problem." Bush added that since the farm economy is currently thriving, now is the time to reform the nation's farm policies by reducing unnecessary subsidies.

Bush defended biofuels during the press conference, correcting a reporter who said 85 percent of the increase in corn price since 2002 is due to increased demand for biofuels. "I have a different take," Pres. Bush said. ""I thought it was 85 percent of the world's food prices are caused by weather, increased demand and energy prices, and that 15 percent has been caused by ethanol." He added that high gasoline prices will spur more investment in ethanol as an alternative fuel. "It's in our national interest that our farmers grow energy, as opposed to us purchasing energy from parts of the world that are unstable or may not like us." Bush also defended the administration's commitment to renewable energy, pointing to the investment in cellulosic ethanol. "We're in a transition period," he said, but with the attention being paid to intermediate and long-term steps (biofuels and hydrogen, respectively) "there is not enough emphasis on the here and now."

Brownfield Network reported that shortly before the President's comments, USDA Secretary Ed Schafer told farm broadcasters gathered at the USDA headquarters that he doesn't anticipate a waiver of the renewable fuels standard for corn-based ethanol. Schafer continued to express opposition to an early, penalty-free release of Conservation Reserve Program acres, while acknowledging higher feed costs have hurt the livestock sector. Schafer told the Brownfield Network he's hoping to make an announcement soon on measures the USDA will take to help livestock producers.