The Senate Agriculture Committee voted yesterday to help the nation's financially ailing wheat farmers by raising income and price supports above current levels and higher than requested by the Carter administration.
The move raises the possibility of a clash between the Congress and the President, who has already increased his suggested support levels once in the face of congressional and farmland ridicule over the initial proposals.
"The President was serious when told (Agriculture Secretary Bob) Bergland he would go with the second support levels and no higher," an administration source said yesterday.
"They are not preceived up here as bottom line," a congressional source said of the same levels. "They are seen as negotiating numbers."
The President initially asked in March for a 13-cent a bushel increase in the current $2.47 target sales price for wheat and no increase in the rate at which the government loans money to wheat farmers, $2.25 a bushel. A variety of sources said yesterday that the congressional and farm reaction was so negative to those proposals that it appeared Congress would simply leave the administration out of the process.
Thus, if the President wanted to have any influence on support levels - outside of a veto - he would have to come back with second, higher figures.
The income and price support levels have significant impact on overall federal economic and budget policy.
As a result, the administration has a keen interest support levels.So on Monday night, the President met with Bergland and agreed to raise the administration's recommended support levels on a variety of grains by another 30 cents. Loan levels were not raised.
Bergland announced the policy reversal, the most recent in a series of them by the 92-day-old administration, on Tuesday. It was a victory of sorts for Bergland, a former farmer and farm district congressman, who had advocated higher support levels originally to the President but had been outweighed by Charles L. Schultze, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.
But since Bergland's announcement both the Senate committee and a House agriculture subcommittee have approved higher support levels.
These levels would not affect farmers' income until 1979, so some congressmen arng changes in the 1977 levels to help farmers next year. That is opposed by the administration.