Although administration officials said they “remained committed to working with Congress to pass a new farm bill after it returns in January,” critics said that President Bush and Senate Republicans had missed their best opportunity to help U.S. farmers.

“This is really a sad day and not a very bright Christmas for farmers and ranchers and people who live in rural America,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “What we basically said to them is, ‘you don’t count.’”

Farm organizations expressed their disappointment at the Senate’s failure to act after Republicans mounted a full-scale attack on the farm bill passed by Harkin’s committee in late November.

“It is disappointing and disheartening to all farmers, farm lenders, and allied agricultural businesses for us to miss this opportunity to move the farm bill process forward,” said Ben Lamensdorf, president of the Stoneville, Miss.-based Delta Council.

After the Senate failed to invoke cloture for the third time in a week, the farm bill was tabled for further consideration as Congress adjourned for the year. An agreement was reached that the farm bill could be brought up again when Congress returns from their Christmas recess on Jan. 23.

“It is a blow to farmers, farm families, lenders, and those who rely on agriculture that we were unable to obtain passage before Christmas,” said Bobby Carson, a farmer from Quitman County, Miss., who chairs the Delta Council’s Farm Policy and Legislative Committee.

“But we intend to work actively over the Christmas recess to make certain that passage of new farm legislation is at the top of the agenda for the second session of the 107th Congress.”

Other organizations were not as charitable to area congressmen as the Delta Council leaders.

“With the documented need for a new farm bill causing anxiety to run high across the nation, the depressed rural economy got a slap in the face from the Bush administration and several Republican senators,” said a press release issued by the American Agriculture Movement.

In what the AAM called a “classic case of stalling,” it said Republican senators killed the farm bill by defeating the three cloture votes that would have stopped debate and allowed a Senate vote.

“The Arkansas economy received a boost this past year to the tune of $1.2 billion from farm program benefits,” said the AAM’s Harvey Joe Sanner, a farmer from Des Arc. “Today’s White House led effort will cause a drastic reduction in that amount and represents President Bush turning his back on the rural states that sent him to the White House.

“We can be thankful that both of Arkansas’ U.S. Senators, Blanche Lincoln and Tim Hutchinson were not a part of those who chose to ignore the pending crisis in agriculture, said Sanner. “We need to express our gratitude, too, for our House of Representative members, Marion Berry, Vic Snyder and Mike Ross who passed a farm bill.”

Sanner accused the administration of talking out of both sides of its mouth in the closing days of the farm bill debate.

“While administration lobbyists were urging senators to reward huge corporations with billions of dollars as an economic stimulus package, they were crying, ‘death to the farm bill’, because it costs too much,” he noted.

“Opponents of a new farm bill have used every lame excuse in the book to justify their farm bill homicide. We in AAM of Arkansas hoped that somewhere down the legislative road common sense and fair play would prevail but when the White House weighed in on the side of greed and arrogance instead of standing up for the people, our hope sunk, then drowned.”

Other farmers were also critical of Mississippi Senator Trent Lott for failing to take a leadership role in the farm bill effort.

Delta Council leaders appeared to be extending an olive branch, however, as they geared up to continue the battle to pass a new farm bill in January.

“The farm leadership of the United States has always exhibited a keen sensitivity to the needs of farm families and rural areas of this nation, and we have been especially fortunate to have congressional leaders from Mississippi who establish the agenda for good farm policy,” said Lamensdorf.

“It is our full intent to make certain that our U.S. Senators and Congressman know that further delays in the passage of sound farm policy will be devastating and possibly irreversible,” he noted.

“We are confident that the block of senators representing Southern agriculture will be able to bring about a bipartisan farm bill that is responsive to the circumstances we face.”

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com.