The new farm bill’s conference committee met twice Wednesday afternoon and nearly completed a new forestry title. The farm bill is slowly taking shape, but slowly won’t get the job done in time to beat Friday’s deadline.

Members of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee continued to meet separately in order to get funding issues resolved.

Realizing the conference wouldn’t meet deadline, on Wednesday the House passed a short-term extension of current law. The Senate is also prepared to ask for another week to complete the bill.

However, that guarantees nothing because, for weeks, the White House has repeatedly stated reluctance for any further short extensions.

“The idea is to get these offsets resolved soon — in the next day or two,” explained Sen. Tom Harkin, Senate Agriculture Committee chairman, about the extension. “Then there’d be time to finalize other member issues.”

“We’ve indicated very, very strongly that we’d not sign another short-term extension unless very substantial progress had been made and we were in a wrap-up phase,” said Chuck Connor, USDA deputy secretary. “We didn’t do that to put a gun to anyone’s head.”

The repeated use of the word “hope” by conference members in regard to getting out a timely bill was picked up on by Connor. “We’re all hopeful,” he chided. “But what does that mean at this point in terms of getting substantial progress towards a good farm bill that President Bush can sign so we can get program details out?”

Willing to jab back, Harkin asked, “Who should define progress? We’re making more progress today and we’ll make some more tomorrow. As soon as the funding issue is settled — hopefully soon — we’ll make progress then.”

Harkin further criticized the White House because “we can’t get reasonable cooperation on the offsets.”

The conference is expected to resume on Thursday afternoon.

e-mail: dbennett@farmpress.com