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Senate panel approves $280 billion farm measure

WASHINGTON (AP) — Legislation that would continue billions of dollars in payments to farmers won approval Thursday by a Senate committee, with critics pledging to work to reduce the subsidies.

The five-year farm bill, approved unanimously by the Senate Agriculture Committee, would provide more than $280 billion for agriculture and nutrition programs and leave in place most subsidies to producers of major crops.

Opponents say the bill helps wealthy farmers too much and should spend more on conservation programs, food aid for the poor or reducing the federal deficit.

"This committee could do much better on behalf of not just farmers, but all taxpayers," said Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., a committee member and former chairman of the panel who said he plans to challenge the bill in the full Senate. "Each passing year the policies seem ever more misguided."

The legislation does attempt to limit subsidies by eventually banning payments to "nonfarmers" whose income averages more than $750,000 a year. The bill defines farmers as those who earn more than two-thirds of their income from agriculture.

There would be no income-based limits on what a farmer could collect.

President Bush threatened to veto a House version of the farm bill that passed in July. That measure would ban payments to all who earn an average $1 million a year or more. The administration has proposed reducing payments to individuals who make more than $200,000. The current cap is $2.5 million.

The legislation is expected to face obstacles in the full Senate.

In other action:

• The House's top Democratic tax writer outlined a $1 trillion plan Thursday to eliminate the alternative minimum tax and ease the tax burdens of most people by asking the rich and some companies to pay more.

"We have attempted to restore equity and fairness to the system," said Rep. Charles Rangel, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. He said his plan would mean net tax cuts to almost all families with incomes under $500,000.

Rangel, D-N.Y., said the more ambitious aspects of his proposal, which includes cutting the corporate tax rate and ending some business provisions, would take time "to be aired out."

House GOP leader John Boehner of Ohio said the "mother of all tax hikes" would "doom our economy" and put people out of work.

• House sponsors of a resolution that would label the 1915 killing of Armenians a genocide have asked Speaker Nancy Pelosi to delay a vote on the measure because they feared it would fail.

Support for the resolution deteriorated this month, after Turkey recalled its U.S. ambassador in protest and several lawmakers said they feared it would cripple U.S.-Turkey relations.

"We believe that a large majority of our colleagues want to support a resolution recognizing the genocide on the House floor and they will do so, provided the timing is more favorable," the lawmakers told Pelosi.