WASHINGTON — The Senate has scuttled a $286 billion farm bill that would have reestablished some federal subsidies for textile mills that use domestic and imported cotton.
Democrats on Friday failed to get the 60 votes required to cut off debate on the legislation and advance it for final consideration and passage. The cloture vote was 55-42. The House passed the bill in July.
The bill was politically popular among several farm-state senators in both parties but it stalled over unrelated amendments. The Senate's failure to advance the bill could postpone action until after the 2008 elections.
The White House threatened to veto the bill, saying it was too expensive.
It is unclear when Democratic leaders in the House and Senate will try to approve a one-year extension of funding for existing farm subsidy programs and leave reform until after the 2008 elections. House Republicans recently introduced a one-year extension of the funding for current farm programs.
The impasse in the Senate puts federal subsidy programs for cotton farmers in question until Congress acts on an extension.
The postponement means textile producers that are required to buy higher-priced U.S. cotton unless the price reaches a certain threshold will not get any federal relief. Textile lobbyists were successful in getting a provision included in the now-stalled farm legislation that would pay textile mills 4 cents on every pound of cotton they use.
The U.S. also faces pressure from Brazil and other developing countries to eliminate and drastically reduce agricultural subsidies, particularly in cotton, under World Trade Organization rules.
The U.S. lost a WTO case brought by Brazil against cotton subsidies and was forced to scrap a similar program in 2005, known as "Step 2," which provided $2.4 billion worth of subsidies to cotton farmers, textile mills and exporters between 1995 and 2004.
Cotton subsidies have been a major sticking point in the current round of Doha global trade talks aimed at reducing tariffs, which have dragged on for six years.
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