Months of hearings, debates and political promises have come down to this: a cloture vote in the Senate that will determine whether the Harkin bill is brought to the Senate floor for debate without a filibuster.

"Within the next 24 hours or so, we should get a clear signal of what will happen with the farm bill," said Mark Lange, vice president for policy analysis with the National Cotton Council, Wednesday night.

On Thursday or Friday, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle is expected to request a vote for cloture on the farm bill reported out two weeks ago by the Senate Agriculture Committee. If the motion passes by the required 60 votes, the bill will be brought to the floor. If not, the situation is unclear.

"A vote for cloture would prevent a filibuster," said Lange. The bill could be amended, but no senator could mount a filibuster against it. The problem is the Democrats don’t have 60 votes, so they will need some Republicans to cross over and vote with them."

Lange said the National Cotton Council has sent an action request to its members, asking them to contact their senators and voice their concerns about the vote for cloture to avert a threatened filibuster by Republican senators.

"If Sen. Daschle can obtain the 60 votes, he has said he will bring the bill to the floor," he said. "If not, we don’t know what will happen. Sen. Daschle seems to feel that if he can win a cloture vote, the Senate will have a floor debate next week and pass a bill before it adjourns."

Failure to pass a Senate farm bill before adjournment, possibly on Dec. 10, would mean that Senate leaders would have to start the process again in January under what is likely to be a much different budget outlook than the current scenario.

Last spring, the House and Senate passed a budget resolution allocating an additional $73.5 billion over the Congressional Budget Office’s baseline projection for agriculture over the next 10 years.

If the farm bill is delayed until next spring, Lange says, the CBO forecast on which the $73.5 billion was based, would likely be much less rosy than in the winter of 2001.

"Quite frankly, we probably would be lucky to get half that amount," said Lange, speaking at Crompton Corp./Uniroyal’s annual Cotton College in San Antonio. "If we have to wait until March, there will be considerably less money for agriculture.

"And that will mean the U.S. cotton industry will have to get smaller."