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Harkin moves toward revenue-disaster compromise

Faced with strong support for a permanent disaster program in the next farm bill from influential members of his own committee, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) said Tuesday that the farm bill he introduces in committee will likely have a "modest disaster program" and an option for producers to sign up for a revenue-based counter-cyclical program.

"I think we can accommodate both and I plan to do so," Harkin said in a telephone press conference.

Earlier Tuesday Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said that he favors establishing a trust fund to pay for permanent disaster relief, using tariffs that the USDA now collects as the source of revenue. That's part of a plan being put together by the Senate Finance Committee. Grassley is the ranking Republican on that committee as well as a member of Harkin's ag committee. Grassley said he doesn't favor a revenue-based counter-cyclical program.

"The Finance Committee will not give money to the Ag Committee to spend any way they want," Grassley said. "We have a strong feeling that if we’re raising money, we should decide how it is going to be spent."

The Finance Committee, chaired by Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), is looking for ways to free up about $8 to $10 billion, with roughly half of that going toward a permanent disaster program. The committee is also considering tax credits for farmers to pay for some conservation practices. Baucus is also on the Senate Ag Committee. Click here to see Baucus' ag funds plan.

Grassley added that these changes would have the effect of freeing up money on the agriculture committee for other programs.

Grassley also said that he has gotten a commitment from Senator Harkin to include the $250,000 payment limit introduced in a separate bill earlier this year by Grassley and Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND).

"I expect that will be included in the bill by Senator Harking himself. I appreciate that very much," Grassley told reporters.

When asked about payment limits in his bill, Harkin laughed and replied, "Well, I don't know yet. Again, this is one of those things we're trying to work out."

Although Harkin personally supports that cap on commodity payments, he said not all of his committee members do and he's not yet certain if the committee would support that payment limit it its bill. "Keep in mind, it may be the floor of the Senate where we actually get it done," he said, referring to the vote in the full Senate where the bill can be amended.

Harkin also said that the Senate's farm bill is likely to have an income test for getting commodity program payments as well and that it's likely to be lower than the House version of a farm bill. The House bill denies payments to farmers with adjusted gross income of $1 million or more and to nonfarmers (with a third or less income from farming) at $500,000 in income.

Harkin said that he still intends to have his committee mark up a farm bill during the current work period of the Senate, which runs through October 5, before the Columbus Day recess.

He said the he will request a one-month extension of the existing farm bill, which expires at the end of this month. He still intends to write a farm bill this year but said that he's not "unalterably opposed," to a longer extension of the bill if members of Congress can't reach an agreement on the final legislation.

Faced with strong support for a permanent disaster program in the next farm bill from influential members of his own committee, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) said Tuesday that the farm bill he introduces in committee will likely have a "modest disaster program" and an option for producers to sign up for a revenue-based counter-cyclical program.

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