House passes farm bill aimed at keeping US agriculture propped up through 1990

The House passed a 1985 farm bill that even its backers concede is at best ``a holding pattern'' to support farm income while the agricultural economy finds its way out of a serious slump. Lawmakers voted 282 to 141 Tuesday in favor of the bill, which reauthorizes farm and food programs through 1990 at a projected cost of $141 billion. But they agreed it fails to address many of farming's current problems.

``Our commitment was that we send a message that we cared, that we not reduce drastically their income,'' said House Agriculture Committee chairman E. (Kika) de la Garza (D) of Texas. ``I think we did that.''

``I guess you buy time while you address the other issues,'' Representative de la Garza added. ``There are many issues not addressed in the bill'' such as unfair trade competition, high interest rates, and the overvalued dollar. ``I guess it's a holding pattern.''

This year's farm-bill debate has taken place against a backdrop of the most severe farm financial crisis in decades, concentrated in the grain belt of the Midwest. While lawmakers railed against current farm policy when work on the new bill began months ago, in the end they shied away from making radical changes.

``All we did was freeze things the way they are,'' said Rep. Tom Daschle (D) of South Dakota, who favored a strict production-control approach that was defeated in several floor votes, and who ultimately voted against the bill. ``That is going to spell disaster over the next few years for a lot of farmers in the upper Midwest.''

Attention now turns to the Senate, which plans to take up its version of the farm bill next week at the earliest.

Agriculture Secretary John Block said the legislation ``still has a number of problems.''

He said that the administration will try to address those as the bill goes through the Senate and later when the two chambers meet to work out differences between their two versions.

The House bill retains the basic system of crop price-support loans and farm-income subsidies that has been in place since 1973.

But it does make a concession to the Reagan administration and others who believe US agriculture's only salvation lies in increased exports.

Under the bill, the price-support loan rates that in the past have steadily edged upward could instead be lowered by the secretary of agriculture by up to 25 percent if deemed necessary to restore the international competitiveness of US commodity prices.

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