Washington While a Democratic-backed overhaul of farm subsidies waits in the Senate, President Bush said Wednesday he wants "generous but affordable" farm legislation that adheres to budget limits and gives farmers a safety net without leading to an overproduction of crops.
His agriculture secretary said the Democrats' bill raises subsidy rates up to 20 percent and 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 remarks by Bush and Veneman to a farm convention were the administration's first substantive comments on the Senate farm bill. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle planned to bring it to a vote by next week. The legislation faces a Republican filibuster.
The administration favors a GOP farm bill 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 let farmers sock away income in good years to use when crops or prices are poor.
Democrats forced their bill through the Senate Agriculture Committee earlier this month.
Republicans criticized what they called a partisan bill. Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts said the measure "was pushed through with little debate or consideration, and it will take us 'back to the future' and the failed policies of the past."
Roberts, an architect of the 1996 market-oriented reforms, said the Democratic bill would lead to higher loan rates and a target price system, old policies that "tended to pay producers when they had a crop, but often provided little if any assistance when producers had no crop to harvest."
"That was why we went to a guaranteed direct payment that producers could count on even if they had no crop to harvest," Roberts said, adding that he thinks the Democratic measure will increase production as well as problems with competition in the world market.