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House to Consider Farm Bill, Supplemental Week of May 12

The House will spend the week of May 12 debating an impressive array of big-ticket items: the forthcoming Iraq War supplemental spending bill and the nearly $300 billion farm bill conference report, with the budget resolution another possible item on tap.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said it is “likely” that the farm bill conference report will come up before the budget committee report.

“Assuming that the agreement holds,” the House will consider the farm bill on Wednesday, he said.

The Rules Committee already announced that it will meet Tuesday to set a rule for debate on the farm bill.

During his weekly colloquy with Hoyer, House GOP Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said that the reason that Democratic leaders want to take up the farm bill before the budget is to avoid a cash shortfall under pay-as-you-go budget rules.

Asked if lawmakers still plan to waive PAYGO for the two domestic spending items currently attached to the war supplemental — enhanced GI benefits and extended unemployment insurance — Hoyer said PAYGO, which requires new spending to be offset with spending cuts or tax increases, does not apply to either one.

The GI bill “technically … does not need a waiver of PAYGO,” Hoyer said. And “clearly, the unemployment insurance, which would be considered as an emergency, as was the stimulus for stimulating the economy, would be dealt with as an emergency.”

Hoyer would not clarify if the supplemental is still on track for final passage by the Memorial Day break on May 23, saying only that “we hope to get it done quickly.”

Democratic leaders were forced to shelve the supplemental last week after Blue Dogs objected to the fact that the $51 billion GI bill was not offset.

As for bringing alternative GI bill proposals to the floor, the Majority Leader said Democratic leaders are “looking at those, and they’re under discussion.” Those alternatives would consider measures other than the tuition assistance currently included in the supplemental.

Calling attention to ongoing concerns with rising gas prices, Blunt proposed taking up legislation by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) that would allow for a gas-tax holiday. Ryan wants to pay for the holiday by using money set aside for earmarks to offset the loss such a holiday would mean for the Highway Trust Fund.

“That would be one of the things that we could do in the next two weeks that should have immediate impact at the pump by Memorial Day,” said the Republican Whip. “If we could do something to reduce gas prices, that would be a major thing.”

But Hoyer said a better way to bring down gas prices would be for the Bush administration to temporarily stop purchasing oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

“The administration, we believe, can do this on its own,” said the Maryland Democrat. “We think that would be good policy while we have this crisis to stop filling up, not reducing, but to stop filling up our own reserve and reduce demand.”

“Maybe we should do both,” replied Blunt. “I suspect there would be substantial support on the floor to do both.”

Another outstanding issue, the Colombia free-trade agreement, still remains on the agenda and is still “a force” under discussion, Hoyer said. For now, however, House Democratic leaders remain unwilling to advance it without first reaching an agreement with the administration on its final components, the Majority Leader said.

“I hope we can get it done,” Blunt said.

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