Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Grassley hopeful for farm payment caps

Sen. Charles Grassley has pushed for years to put a cap on federal farm program payments, but to no avail.

Now that his own party is no longer in control of Congress, Grassley believes the payment limitations will have a better chance of being passed into law.

Grassley is in favor of federal farm payment limits to ensure a larger percentage of the funding is channelled to small and medium sized farm operations.

In a weekly conference call today with farm broadcasters, Grassley was asked about the prospect of getting the legislation passed.

"The key to getting it passed is to get by the House Agriculture Committee, where there's been strong Republican opposition to it," said Grassley. "I'm hoping with a Democrat chairman, who is very populist in his approach, (he) will support it. But whether you have Republican or Democrat control of the House of Representatives, it seems like we still have resistance from Southern cotton and rice farmers to any payment limitation. On the other hand, those of us in the rest of the country feel that a payment limitation is very important."

Grassley went on to explain why he supports payment limits. "First of all to save the taxpayers money; secondly, there is outrage when you find 10 percent of the biggest farmers getting 72 percent of the benefits out of the farm program."

He said that the support of "city people" in the House of Representatives is lost due to bad publicity stemming from the fact that so few large operations are taking so much of the federal farm payments and "being subsidized to get bigger."

"The farm program has always been targeted towards medium and small-sized farmers," said Grassley. "So for the reason of saving taxpayer money, for the reason of keeping public confidence in the farm program, and thirdly for not subsidizing big farmers to get bigger at the expense of maybe young people getting into agriculture, we think it has good support and I think it'll be in the farm bill that Senator Harkin brings before the Senate. So then the question comes back the House of Representatives.

Grassley is working with Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) on the legislation, which was introduced in the Senate on Thursday.

The bill, called the Rural America Preservation Act, would limit federal farm program payments to $250,000. According to a joint statement released from Grassley and Dorgan, the legislation would "close loopholes in the farm program that allow some mega-farms and corporate farms to collect seven-figure government checks each year."

“It is unfair to family farmers and to American taxpayers that the government has been awarding seven-figure payments to corporate mega-farms,” said Dorgan. “This bill would set limits on these payments, and I’m going to push to target the money saved to use for a disaster title in the farm program.”

According to the statement from Grassley and Dorgan, the legislation would cap direct payments at $20,000; counter-cyclical payments at $30,000; and marketing loan gains (including forfeitures), loan deficiency payments, and commodity certificates at $75,000.

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