WASHINGTON -- Republican leaders circulated a new farm package Thursday but Sen. James Exon, D-Neb., charged it would 'scuttle' small farms and that Democrats would block action with a filibuster.
The new GOP proposal, a variation of one narrowly defeated Wednesday, made the rounds of Republicans and Democrats as Senate leader Robert Dole hunted hard for a winning combination.
Exon, a ranking farm state senator, said the new Republican proposal was even worse than the one defeated Wednesday, which would have provided a one-year freeze on crop subsidies and authorization to reduce subsidies 5 percent a year in each of the following three years.
The new Republican proposal incorporates the one-year freeze and the 5 percent cuts but provides wheat growers with variable program and incorporates 'lock, stock and barrell' the money-saving provisions included in a Democratic alternative.
The bill the Senate Agriculture Committee sent to the Senate floor would freeze subsidies for four years.
Republicans, surprised and elated by the narrowness of their initial defeat, sought a combination that would provide a majority and Sen. Richard Lugar said the Senate had moved 'a major step toward achieving a farm bill agreement this year.'
The narrowness of the defeat, 51-48, encouraged the Republicans, leading Lugar to say Thursday the close vote 'paves the way for a major compromise. Many thought we could only get 30 votes.'
Busy with off-the-floor negotiations, the Republicans refused to permit any move on the floor by Democrats. Dole said the GOP would offer its alternative first -- 'We're the majority.'
But Exon said, 'If we think they have the votes for the bill they have out there, we're going to filibuster. We're ready to go. We want to delay action as long as possible.'
The Democratic alternative, which does not provide for subsidy cuts, would save $7.6 over three years through a variety of program changes and Exon said there were enough votes to pass it if Dole allowed it to come before the Senate.
Exon charged that Dole was trying to split senators from wheat states from corn state senators and was holding out new concessions to cotton and rice state senators. But Exon said Democrats, opposing the Dole-Lugar plan, had not budged.
Exon conceded he did not known what success Dole has had with Republicans, 12 of whom had deserted the administration Wednesday.
'If Dole came to the Democrats with a deal for some Democrats, what has done to some of his own,' Exon said.
In response to a question why some Republicans were deserting the ranks on subsidy cuts, Exon replied 'they don't dare' vote for the administration, adding 'the people back home might find out about it.'
He said the new proposal, still in sketchy form, is 'not as good' as the one rejected and charged that 'Dole is carrying the water for the administration.'
Congressional budget figures showed that the farm bill, as offered in the Senate, would be at least $20 billion over the budget. The administration estimates the package at $25 billion to $35 billion over budget.
Lugar said, 'For the first time in months we have achieved the possibility of restoring budget responsibility to the debate and encouraging growth in farm exports.
'We now have the ground work to begin building a compromise which will reduce budget outlays for the bill and provide stable farm income to American farmers,' Lugar said. 'At least 48 members of the Senate realize that these steps are not Draconian but rather the change to get a farm bill to help American farmers.
'We still have a long way to go, but for the first time I am at least cautiously optimistic,' Lugar said.