WASHINGTON - Even as politicians slash the federal budget, a little- noticed move by the Senate Agriculture Committee would give broad new powers to a moribund government-backed institution that securitizes farm and rural-housing mortgages.

Farmer Mac, which was created by Congress in 1987, is fighting for its life. It has been plagued by scanty business volumes and operating losses that have eaten away almost half of the $22 billion it started out with. And by December 1996, the agency, formally the Federal Agricultural Mortgage Corp., must meet capital standards that it says it will likely not fulfill.

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