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Lincoln hits on big issues

WASHINGTON -- In her first speech since being named chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., told the National Cattlemen's Beef Association Sept. 15 that she will raise the impact of climate change legislation...

WASHINGTON -- In her first speech since being named chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., told the National Cattlemen's Beef Association Sept. 15 that she will raise the impact of climate change legislation on consumer prices as a major issue in that debate.

"What's the impact going to be on consumers in terms of an increase in the price of food?" Lincoln asked at a breakfast meeting. "Nobody can answer that question," she added.

Lincoln later told reporters that she is particularly concerned about low-income consumers. Lincoln says she does not support the House-passed climate change bill because it "picks winners and losers" and "places a disproportionate share of the burden" on Arkansas and rural America in general. Lincoln says she will not support a climate change bill in the Senate if it is similar to the House-passed bill.

Climate bill participation

Lincoln, who also serves on the Senate Finance Committee, also endorsed the claim of Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., to a major role in the climate change bill. The Senate leadership has put the climate change bill largely in the hands of Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., but Baucus has said many provisions of the bill will come under the Finance committee's jurisdiction.

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Lincoln said she has not discussed Finance's role in climate change with Baucus, but that she thinks Finance should play a role in determining whether the proposed cap-and-trade market will work and in the impact of a climate change bill on consumers.

"There is a big role for Finance to play," she said.

Addressing issues

Lincoln also told the cattlemen she will be a vigorous participant in the debate over how to handle the estate tax as the current law expires and a more onerous previous law would go back into effect. Lincoln said the estate tax is an "absolute disadvantage" to farm and ranch families because they face a liquidity issue if they have to pay estate taxes on land holdings, an issue that manufacturing corporations never have to face because of the way their businesses are organized.

Lincoln said a provision in the Clean Water Restoration Act passed by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that says it would cover "the waters of the United States" rather than "navigable" waters needs to be amended so that EPA does not interpret it to cover all waters.

"We've seen in the past where the imagination can be stretched," Lincoln said. "We don't need the imagination to be stretched right now."

Lincoln also said that the world market for U.S. farmers "is not free or fair at this juncture."

The Bush administration made concessions on agriculture in the Doha Round negotiations last year even though other countries had not reciprocated, she said, adding that any further negotiations should start "with a new text."

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She also urged the Obama administration to push the Colombia and Panama free trade agreements and to make it easier to sell U.S. products in Cuba.

"The embargo has accomplished all it is going to accomplish," she said.

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