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Pushing a rock up Capitol Hill

DANIEL LOOKER 07/14/2011 @ 10:35pm Business Editor

The National Corn Growers Association’s Corn Congress ended in Washington Thursday, after two days of lobbying for continued support for crop insurance and ethanol, and debating the group’s own policy on the best way to promote the homegrown fuel that has become the second largest domestic market for corn after livestock.
NCGA members spent Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning this week visiting members of the House and Senate to ask that ag committees be allowed to decide how farm programs will be cut.  Some worry that farm programs will on the chopping block in any deal to raise the debt ceiling. Protecting crop insurance is high on their list.
And, the Corn Growers are urging continued support for the renewable fuel standard, the mandate to use ethanol that many consider more important than the blenders tax credit, which is all but certain to die at the end of this year,  if not this summer.
The Corn Growers are also passing out fliers that explain the difference between sweet corn and field corn.
“We have a whole bunch of new folks on Capitol Hill,” the group’s top lobbyist, Jon Doggett told members Wednesday. “One of the problems with food versus fuel [debates] is that people don’t know the difference between the two.”
Later, in an interview with Agriculture.com, Doggett said his group expects the mandate for ethanol use in the 2007 energy bill to come under attack. The House has already voted to end the energy law’s requirement for more efficient light bulbs.
“We’ve got a new gang in town that doesn’t like mandates,” Doggett said. And the energy bill’s renewable fuel standard is “a mandate just like the light bulb deal.”
The RFS is just part of what Doggett describes as the biggest change he’s seen in Washington in his 25 years of working the Washington.
“We’re starting to set ourselves on the path of undoing a lot of what has happened over the past 70 years,” he said, referring to the federal government’s big entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. There will be resistance to that in the Senate and the White House for now “but I sense a sea change,” he added.
Unlike entitlements, a mandate doesn’t necessarily cost the federal treasury anything, but to the ethanol industry and corn growers, it’s an important part of today’s strong agricultural economy.
When asked if the RFS is more important than the blenders credit, Doggett replied, “Of course it is. I’m anxious to hear what our members are finding on Capitol Hill”
On Thursday, an informal poll of NCGA delegates found solid support for the RFS from congressional delegations in states like Iowa and Kansas, but less certainty about its support from Texas, where the delegation is becoming more urban.

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