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House farm bill passage reactions: It's not perfect, but right for today

The vast majority of those speaking up on the U.S. House of Representatives' passage of its version of the farm bill Wednesday sound happy.

Many recognize the bill far from perfect, but say it is a step in the right direction. If Wednesday's 318-to-106 House vote in favor of the bill is any indication, it's a big step in the right direction.

"This final farm bill is not a perfect piece of legislation. However, it does contain some very important provisions that are a solid step in the right direction for our rural communities," Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) said Wednesday. The bill includes important reforms to food and nutrition programs, he adds, but still lacks "meaningful payment limit provisions" and doesn't ban packer ownership of livestock. But, despite these shortcomings, Johnson said he "will continue to fight for this program."

The bill's House passage on Wednesday did draw some of the criticism that's become standard fare for the farm program in recent years. Critics say government support should be withdrawn from an ag industry where crop market prices are at or near record levels.

"Lawmakers missed an opportunity to end the gravy train for fat cat farmers by not increasing the automatic giveaways in the direct payment system and capping payments to wealthy farmers," said Ryan Alexander of the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense. "Instead of reforming farm programs at a time of record profits in farm country, this bill actually increases subsidies and continues to allow millionaire farm households to receive handouts from taxpayers."

But, any look at the balance sheet of today's farmers shows record prices don't mean much when costs for inputs like fertilizer and fuel are also touching their top-end price limits. Prices paid for inputs -- including $4-plus diesel fuel and anhydrous ammonia fertilizer that's twice the cost it was a year ago -- are higher across the board, and that means this farm bill is as needed as one has ever been, says American Farm Bureau Federation president Bob Stallman.

"The three-legged safety net of direct payments, marketing loans and counter-cyclical programs provides our farmers an essential level of financial security at a time when their markets are volatile and expenses such as fertilizer and fuel costs are shooting through the roof," Stallman said this week. "No farm bill ever is perfect, but this bill includes substantial reforms."

The Senate is expected to approve the bill by a wide margin just as the House, likely overriding President George W. Bush, who's insisted he will veto it. Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) said he expects the bill will pass his chamber just as it did in the House. A vote is expected Thursday in the Senate.

"I now look forward to the Senate approving the measure with a strong vote," he said Wednesday.

"I believe there will be a similar result when the Senate votes on the farm bill. We are sending a clear message to the White House that they should back down from their veto threats," added Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) on Wednesday. "They need to stop turning their backs on rural America."

The vast majority of those speaking up on the U.S. House of Representatives' passage of its version of the farm bill Wednesday sound happy.

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