Congress Tepid on Farm Bill Proposals

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One thing is certain in farm bill writings - Congress writes them. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns did what few secretaries, if any, have done before Wednesday when he offered a thorough proposal on all ten titles of the upcoming 2007 Farm Bill. It'll take weeks, if not months, for everyone to sort through all of the details of the proposal. At first glance, Congressional members were welcoming of his suggestions, but they'll take them only as ideas to start the long debate ahead.

House Ag Committee ranking member Bob Goodlatte said the process of compiling the next farm bill is still in its early stages and the committee "will consider the proposal offered by the Administration just as we will consider the feedback we gathered from farmers and ranchers throughout the Committee's own farm bill hearing series."

Senate Ag Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said he will take careful consideration of Johanns' proposals, although he isn't a fan of everything proposed. "There are a number of good ideas, along with others that raise serious questions. I'm especially concerned about the idea to put even more money in the old Freedom to Farm type of payments," he said.

Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman supports the overarching policy goals outlined in the proposal with support of maintaining marketing loans, countercyclical support and direct payments. "Unfortunately, there are deep cuts and harmful changes to every commodity under the farm bill safety-net, as well as to the Federal Crop Insurance Program, that would hurt Minnesota's rural communities and cost our state jobs," he said.

Harkin's Republican counterpart Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said he values the Secretary's recommendations, however, "ultimately it is up to Congress to write comprehensive farm policy. Congress will have the final say and set the final spending limits on the farm bill."

Chambliss added the proposal should not be seen as a revision of the U.S. offer in the Doha Round. "It would be unproductive for our trading partners to assume otherwise."

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, a long-time advocate of payment limitations, said he is appreciative of the administration's effort to address the inequitable farm payment situation. "It appears that they have the same philosophy as I do, but this is a new approach so we're going to have to see if it's workable."

Harkin criticized USDA for not calling for more money in the Conservation Security Program - a program he championed in the last farm bill debate. "I was disappointed that the proposal fails to remedy the budget damage to the Conservation Security Program since the 2002 farm bill. It does not restore CSP to a nationwide program so every producer at least has an opportunity to apply. That should be the goal," Harkin said.

Grassley said the energy title proposals provide a "good starting point for our debate in the Senate." Harkin's words were less flattering, saying, "On energy, the proposal is not enough to meet the ambitious goals the President laid out in his State of the Union speech for increasing production of alternative and renewable fuels. While I support the rhetoric, I do not see adequate resources dedicated to backing it up."


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