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Grassley: Pay limits threatened

DANIEL LOOKER 11/19/2013 @ 2:01pm Business Editor

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who has championed tough commodity payment limits for years, said Tuesday that the leaders of the House Agriculture Committee in the farm bill conference committee are trying to derail tough reforms that were included in both the Senate and House versions of the bill.

"We're getting to a serious point of negotiations of the farm bill," Grassley told reporters Tuesday, referring to the behind-the-scenes work of the conference committee tasked with putting the two bills together.

Grassley said he believes that all but about eight of the House members on the conference committee are opposed to the amendment that added payment limits that are nearly the same as those in the Senate bill. The bills cap payments to a farm couple at $250,000 a year and also target payments to working farmers. Until now, large farms have been able to collect multiple payments if they can claim some managerial involvement in the operation. The new rules would allow only one off-farm "manager."

Grassley said that commodity groups representing rice farmers are lobbying the conference committee to get the payment limit reforms taken out of the final bill, and the leadership of the House Agriculture Committee seems to be opposed to the reforms as well.

(When contacted, the office of House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK), didn't have a response. The office of the ranking minority member, Collin Peterson (D-MN), didn't respond, either.)

In the Senate bill, "we define a farm so that you don't get a bunch of nonfarmers collecting from farm programs," said Grassley. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the tighter rules would save taxpayers about $146 million over 10 years.

Grassley said that it's inconsistent to demand reforms in the nutrition program, which he supports, but to resist tighter payment limit rules in the commodity title of the farm bill.

If the payment limit reforms are removed, "the easier it will be for the opponents of the farm bill to argue that we should never have a farm bill again," Grassley said.

Grassley said that Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) is supporting the tough payment limits.

"I know she's working hard to defend all of the Senate bill" including payment reforms, Grassley said. "She is very realistic on what the taxpayers can afford."

Grassley said he would like to see House Speaker John Boehner take a more active role in getting the conference committee to complete its farm bill negotiations.

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