Harkin hoping for recess success
WASHINGTON - As Congress left town for a four-week August recess, the focus on the 2007 farm bill moved to the Senate, with Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, under pressure to move the bill while Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Cali...
WASHINGTON - As Congress left town for a four-week August recess, the focus on the 2007 farm bill moved to the Senate, with Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, under pressure to move the bill while Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., made a somewhat surprising announcement that she would not support banning farm subsidies for farmers with incomes over $250,000 and questions remained about how Congress will pay for all the programs farmers and others want in the new farm bill.
A Harkin spokeswoman said Aug. 3 that Harkin intends to release a draft of his bill, hold a committee session on it on the Senate floor as soon as possible when the Senate returns in September, a spokeswoman said Aug. 3.
"Sen. Harkin has gotten indications that he can make further progress during the month of August to shape his farm bill proposal," the spokeswoman said. "He is working in consultation with other offices to iron out details and secure the funding needed to make his proposed investments in energy, conservation, nutrition and rural development a reality. He intends to use the month of August to work through these details so that he can unveil his proposal when Congress returns and quickly work to get it marked up in Committee and to the Senate floor."
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^Meanwhile, Boxer, one of the Senate's most liberal members, told California reporters that she would not support a ban on subsidies to farmers who earn more than $250,000, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
"It's not an easy issue for California," Boxer said. "We have our rice people and we have our cotton people. Besides the fact that it's a huge business and a huge export, we also have the opportunity here, if things go the way I think they will go, for cellulosic fuels to be developed out of the rice straw. So I don't want to give these crops a bad name, because they have some really great potential."
Boxer's statement shows how hard it will be for the reformers who want to cut subsidies to big cotton and rice growers to make much more progress in the Senate. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., agreed to banning subsidies for farmers with more than $1 million in income even though many food activists in her San Francisco district called on a much lower limit on the grounds that farm subsidy money should go to smaller farmers and should not help operations that grow crops like cotton in competition with farmers in developing countries.
Harkin's office made the statement after Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., told Nebraska reporters that he wants to see Harkin's draft bill language as soon as possible, the Brownfield agricultural news service reported. Nelson said, "On the 15th (of September), Gen. (David) Petraeus' report is due, and then I think the only that will happen before the end of the fiscal year, the year that the farm bill ends, will be about the Iraq war."
Awaiting commodity titles
Nelson also said he had told Harkin in a letter on the farm bill that he does not want farm programs that benefit Nebraska cut.
"I don't want to see Nebraska's farmers' compensation - of any kind that comes into it - less than what they're currently getting," Nelson told Brownfield.
Harkin has sent other senators on the Agriculture committee drafts of all titles of the proposed farm bill but not the commodity title, which provides the core of farm subsidies. But aides to both Republican and Democratic senators on the Agriculture committee said their bosses are unwilling to identify possible offsets to Harkin until Harkin releases his commodity title. A Harkin spokeswoman said that Harkin's staff is consulting with other committee staffers on an almost daily basis and wants to release the farm bill draft as soon as possible. Harkin so far has talked much more about conservation, nutrition and rural development programs than he has talked about the commodity. He has sent other senators of both parties on the committee drafts of all titles except the commodity title.
In a recent telephone interview with reporters, Harkin praised the energy title in the House bill, but said he would still like to provide transition payments for conversion to energy crops and a cost share for establishment of the cellulose crops. Harkin said he is considering rental payments like those that farmers get for idling land in the Conservation Reserve Program and wants farmers who raise energy crops to be eligible for the Conservation Security Program for periods of three to five years while they enter into agreements with biorefineries for the production of cellulose crops.
"I hope to be a little more aggressive, but the House is pretty darn good quite frankly. It comes down to money," Harkin said. Harkin repeated his criticisms of the House bill for not allowing new enrollments in the CSP for the life of the 2007 farm bill. Increasing corn production without proper conservation would amount to "strip mining" the land, he said.
Harkin said he does not expect to raise loan rates for certain crops as the House bill does and is inclined to move to a revenue-based countercyclical program along the lines of the proposal of the National Corn Growers Association. Harkin said he does not plan to cut direct payments because there is no support in the committee to do that.
But his emphasis on noncommodity issues has raised questions about his relations with other committee members, particularly Senate Agriculture Production Income Protection and Price Support Subcommittee Chairman Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., and Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad, who is considered the leader on northern crops within the committee. Lincoln said Aug. 3 that she has not seen "anything in writing" from Harkin about the commodity title, but that she looks to working with him on it. "The commodity title is essential," Lincoln said. "There are times in the history of this group when the commodity title has been increasing important, and now is one of them."
Harkin has advocated imposing stricter payment limitations than the House did, but Lincoln said it would be "very difficult" for Arkansas growers to live with the payment limitations in the House bill and that the House limits "could put out of business a lot of capital intensive crop growers. They get hammered because larger farms get larger payments, but they have to be in order to spread their risk out over a greater volume of business. It's amazing to me that people don't recognize that. You have to start out with a size to be able to spread your risk."
Lincoln added that the large growers "do produce a lot," but said the government payments "go to the bank, the seed dealer, the implement dealer. They pay for these huge capital investments these farmers have to make before they produce their crop." With the recent food safety other product scares from China, Lincoln, "I don't think outsourcing those commodities is a wise thing. To me, it is a good investment to be able to have a safe and abundant investment."
Conrad said recently that he wants to maintain the current safety net in the commodity title and add a permanent disaster aid program. An aide to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., also said that a disaster aid program is a priority of his.
The office of Senate Agriculture ranking member Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., did not respond to a request for an interview, but a Senate Agriculture Republican aide said Republicans on the committee still are "waiting to be asked on a