Grassley sees good chance for payment limits in Senate farm bill
Senator Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, told reporters Wednesday that he believes the Senate version of a new farm bill will have a firm cap on commodity program payments of $250,000.
That's the level Grassley and North Dakota Democrat, Senator Byron Dorgan, are supporting in their own legislation introduced this summer.
"I haven't counted votes, but there's a great deal of confidence we can get it put in, even if it isn't in the chairman's mark, (the initial draft to be introduced by Senator Tom Harkin, head of the committee)," Grassley said.
He said he has participated in several Republican strategy sessions and, even though he expects southern Republicans and a couple of Democrats on the committee to oppose tough payment limits, he thinks they will pass.
That view is supported by National Farmers Union president, Tom Buis, who spoke to the Iowa Farmers Union in Des Moines on Friday, August 24.
"I think at the end of the day, the Grassley-Dorgan bill will pass in the Senate," Buis said.
Buis was responding to questions from Iowa Farmers Union members who thought the House should have gone further to limit payments. Its version of a farm bill has an income test of $1 million for nonfarmers and $500,000 for farmers who get most of their income from agricultural production.
That's not a cap on payments, but an exclusion from the program for anyone with taxable income above those levels. The House bill actually raises payment limits, while ending a rule that allowed three entities with common farm ownership to collect payments.
Buis said that one of the reasons the House Agriculture Committee didn't do more is politics and fear by the Democrats that freshman members of the committee would be targeted for defeat by the Republican party in 2008. The committee has eight new Democrats and 15 freshmen Democrats in the House are from rural areas, he said.
In the final vote on the farm bill in the House, the outcome was unusually partisan. Democrats added a funding provision that increases taxes on foreign-based corporations operating in the U.S., which the Bush administration opposes.
Only 19 Republicans voted for the House farm bill and only 14 Democrats voted against it, Buis said. "It was big-picture politics driving it," he said.
The Iowa Farmers Union got a taste of big-time politics when Representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD) spoke on behalf of the John Edwards presidential campaign. (Farmers Union doesn't officially endorse candidates, but some individual members are working for presidential candidates).
Rural America has been ignored for too long, she said. "When John Edwards is elected president, I feel confident that will change."
Herseth Sandlin said that Edwards, who is from a rural area of North Carolina, would stand up to agribusiness, giant packers and special interests, "otherwise we risk outsourcing food production and compromising food safety for American consumers."