Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Farm Bill News Roundup

There is lot's of news regarding the farm bill:

Religous Leaders Weigh In:

Leaders from several Christian denominations gathered July 17 in a House hearing room to urge that there be more justice and fairness in the upcoming farm bill.

"Abuses in the farm bill have become so egregious that it's become a religious issue," said the Rev. David Beckmann, an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America minister who is head of Bread for the World, a Christian citizens' lobby on hunger issues.

"People are talking about it in the churches," he said at a press conference in the hearing room.

Democrats are Concerned about the Politics of the Farm Bill

There are 42 new freshmen in the House this year — including many with rural constituencies — and nine sit on the farm panel.

That means leadership will have to weigh the re-election needs of new members such as Tim Walz of Minnesota, whose constituency includes many farmers used to collecting subsidies, against those such as Arizona’s Gabrielle Giffords who would bring millions more back to her district if some farm payments were redirected to conservation programs, according to a new report by Environmental Defense.

Leadership hopes to strike a deal that accommodates both types of new members.

“It’s a question of creating good public policy that can achieve strong bipartisan support . . . sound legislation that includes reform and a safety net for America’s farmers,” said a Democratic leadership aide.

Lawmakers get down to writing farm bill details:

Lawmakers are expected to get down to the nitty-gritty this week of writing a five-year blueprint for the nation's agriculture and nutrition programs.

The House Agriculture Committee's goal is to deliver a 2007 farm bill that balances the competing interests of grain farmers, fruit and vegetable growers, ranchers, dairy farmers, agribusiness, environmentalists, rural energy producers and anti-hunger advocates. And that's just a few of the groups interested in the bill's outcome.

The 46-member panel begins work Tuesday.

House committee members will work on a nearly $280 billion main proposal to replace the 2002 farm bill that expires Sept. 30. It could be temporarily extended to give Congress more time to write a new bill.

The Senate agriculture committee may not produce its version until September.

Republicans Demand to See Details:

Republican members of the House Agriculture Committee are objecting to lack of details on how the next farm bill would be financed, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're pulling out of the farm bill writing process that is scheduled to start with opening speeches by committee members this afternoon.

The committee's ranking Republican member, Representative Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, said in a statement Monday evening that all Republican members of the committee were unanimous in wanting to wait to draft the farm bill until they know where money for the bill will come from.

"In the short-term, we're being asked to support a bill that we've yet to see in final form without the final CBO scores," Goodlatte said. "In the long-term, we're being asked to take a bill to the floor that lacks sufficient funding to withstand a barrage of potentially devastating amendments. We continue to urge the Chairman to pull in the reins and proceed when the funding is made available."

But a delay until at least September is likely:

The Senate Farm Bill Schedule is now seen “sliding” into September, which could force the need for a short-term extension of existing law. With the current farm Bill set to expire on September 30, it is looking more and more likely an extension will be needed since the Senate won’t take up the 2007 Farm Bill until September. Senate Ag Committee Chairman Tom Harkin says a floor fight over Iraq could keep the Farm Bill from getting time on the Senate Floor, “If that’s the case, then I’m out for getting floor time this month.” Harkin does not want to mark up a bill in his committee now, and wait a whole month through the August recess to go to the floor in September.

Congressman Frank Lucas is concerned with Congressman Kind's Ammendment:

Agriculture Committee members and I have participated in dozens of hearings, put hundreds of hours of work, and taken thousands of letters and calls on the issue of improving the 2007 farm bill. But ironically, a single amendment at the eleventh hour could vaporize a major part of the legislation we’ve been improving, and eliminate a significant source of support to rural farm economies.

Rep. Ron Kind(D-WI) will offer an amendment to the floor debate for the 2007 Farm Bill later this month that will eliminate the section of the legislation that implements farm programs, called the commodity title. Instead, Kind’s amendment would use those funds to create “farmer risk management accounts,” and shift other parts of the funding to rural development and conservation programs.

Although most of the spending in farm bills goes to social nutrition programs like food stamps, the commodity title of the farm bill has an enormous impact on the rural economy of Oklahoma and America. It creates the fundamental safety net that has been the hallmark of agriculture policy for decades.

But if the Kind amendment passes, these programs would be no more. The counter-cyclical payments that kick in when producers face low commodity prices would be gone. The direct payments that provide annual support to the agriculture sector would be zapped as well. This federal funding not only allows our agriculture sector to remain viable in difficult years, it also reverberates in the rural economies, as those dollars bounce from business to business on the Main Streets of rural America.

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