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Grassley sees public opinion favoring payment limits

DANIEL LOOKER 01/14/2014 @ 3:20pm Business Editor

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) agrees with Representative Collin Peterson (D-MN) that language Grassley authored to put strong payment limits in the Senate Farm Bill is holding up completion of a final bill that irons out differences between the House and Senate bills.

In the case of payment limits, there are no significant differences. Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) got his colleagues to approve an amendment to the House bill that closes the same loopholes, and, Grassley told reporters Tuesday, it passed by a strong vote of 230 to 180.

The reform caps commodity program payments at $250,000 for a farming couple and allows one off-farm "manager" to claim a payment. It closes a loophole that has allowed multiple partners in a large farm (Grassley calls them "farmers in wingtips") to claim to be part of a farm's management and receive payments.

Grassley said that Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) is the lone holdout defending the reform behind closed doors as she negotiates with the other three leaders of the farm bill process, her committee's ranking Republican, Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, and Peterson, who is the ranking Democrat on the committee.

"There's a reason the opponents don't want a public conference meeting," Grassley said. "They would not be able to defend their position in public."

Grassley said that Stabenow believes in the payment limit reform.

"She's got the moral high ground of not only having Congress but public opinion on her side," Grassley said.

When asked if he was confident that Stabenow could hold out against pressure from many ag groups, Grassley said, "I'm only going to hold Debbie Stabenow to her word, and she's kept her word that she's going to fight for this."

Grassley has repeatedly called it hypocritical for the ag committees to close some loopholes for food stamp payments while allowing wealthy farm owners to continue receiving commodity payments.

We reached out to the four key negotiators on the farm bill, who, so far, have chosen not to comment.

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