Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Political Dominoes: Farm Bill's Passage Depends on How They Fall

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley said Tuesday that the fate of the 2007 farm bill may rest in the hands of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

Grassley, a Republican in the minority in the Senate, told reporters during a weekly conference call that Speaker Pelosi wants major reforms in the way that farm payments are structured, but Pelosi and the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., are having difficulty reaching an agreement on legislation.

One of the scenarios that has Grassley concerned is the possibility of a revolt against the House committee's farm bill when it goes to the full House of Representatives for a vote.

Leading that charge would be Wisconsin Democrat Ron Kind, who has his own version of a farm bill that calls for drastic changes in farm programs.

WHO Radio farm broadcaster Ken Root questioned Grassley about the possible Kind scenario. Root asked, "after all that's going on here in the divisiveness that seems to be happening within the House ag committee, are you concerned that Congressman Ron Kind is going to be able to truly get a revolutionary change in farm legislation on the floor of the House?"

To which Grassley responded, "I've visited with House members who are of my way of thinking, and they're very concerned about it. And I think the only thing that can keep him from winning is if Speaker Pelosi is going to back Chairman Peterson. But I don't see how a speaker of the house can go against her own chairman, when what Peterson wants to do is not so out of tune with the Democratic Party's approach to ag things generally."

Grassley went on to explain that in 2002 when the agriculture legislation was moving through Congress, Pelosi voted with Kind on the House floor to institute an alternate version of the farm bill rather than the agriculture committee version.

If such a scenario were to unfold during this year's debate on the 2007 farm bill, Grassley said it would ultimately result in a simple extension of the existing farm bill. "We surely aren't going to go that direction in the Senate," said Grassley. "And so, if you get down into September, and you don't have a bill, you're going to have an extreme amount of necessity in moving a one-year extension so farmers know before they do their fall tillage what the farm program is next year."

Grassley has been working with Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., on an effort to institute payment limitations in farm commodity programs.
"We believe that if the House would include the Grassley-Dorgan payment limit language in their version of the farm bill, it would save close to $700 million," said Grassley. "With the Senate and House trying to find offsets this year, this seems to be a very good step in the right direction, considering the need to find offsets for spending. Our payment limit legislation would not only help find extra money, but it is real reform in the farm program as well."

"The bottom line is that under the current budget situation, we cannot continue justifying to the American public and the urban members of the House of Representatives the high amount of subsidies going to our largest farmers -- in other words, helping subsidize big farmers to get bigger -- making it difficult for young farmers to get started farming and leaving nearly empty-handed those who need the most help," said Grassley.

Instituting payment limits in the farm program has been a hot topic during the farm bill debate. Grassley said that Peterson does not disagree with payment limitations but is having difficulty selling the idea to Southern members of the House Agriculture Committee. "You've got to get Southern votes for your farm bill. And, of course, cotton and rice are very much opposed to these payment limitations, and so I think he's trying to move a bill along."

Peterson convened the House Agriculture Committee Tuesday to draft the farm bill. The initial drafts of the farm bill in the House have included relatively minor changes in the way farm commodity payments are structured. The committee is scheduled to continue its work until Thursday.

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