Senate leaders have agreed to allow members from both parties to offer a maximum of 20 amendments each to the farm bill so the Senate can complete work on the measure before it adjourns for the year.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin of Iowa announced Thursday night that negotiators had reached an agreement on a 20-amendment maximum — down from 280 that would have been offered under the Senate’s open debate rules.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada told the Senate that, following completion of the agreement, debate on the farm bill would begin this afternoon and continue Monday afternoon in the hope that the Senate could complete work on the bill “before we leave here for the year.”

Reid had said he wanted to limit debate to amendments that were germane to the farm bill when the Senate Agriculture Committee-passed bill was brought to the floor Nov. 5. But Republicans objected. One attempt to invoke cloture failed by five votes (60 needed) on Nov. 16 and another was scheduled for today when the agreement was reached.

“The farm bill came to the Senate with great momentum — it stayed within pay-as-you-go budgeting, yet provided needed investments to rural America, farming families and the nation,” Harkin said in a statement announcing the agreement.

“It is a bipartisan measure that passed the Senate Agriculture Committee by voice vote without a single vote voiced against it. And after a month of this bill languishing due to procedural maneuvering, this bill will finally get back on track and bring critical investments to reality.”

Harkin praised the work of Sens. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., the senior Democrat on the Committee, Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., ranking member, and Norm Coleman, R-Minn., for working “in a bipartisan manner and negotiating in good faith.”

While debate on the bill was expected to begin this afternoon and continue Monday, no votes on the bill were scheduled until Tuesday (Dec. 11).

Farm organizations had been calling on senators to put aside their differences on the amendment issue and put the farm bill back on track for passage in time for the 2008 plan ting season.

“Republican senators, especially those in Texas, have received considerable input and feedback from farmers and all elements of agribusiness during this week, urging them to put partisanship and other issues aside and get a farm bill passed,” said a spokesman for Plains Cotton Growers Inc., in Lubbock, Texas.

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