After our opinion piece ran in the Grand Forks Herald right before Christmas, Senator Conrad responded with a letter of his own. In case you didn't know, this is the sort of thing that pleases us to no end. While we don't particularly enjoy being criticized, having a United States Senator respond to our writing must mean we're doing something right. Anyway, here's Senator Conrad's response:
Reform would have killed bill
Grand Forks Herald
December 24, 2007
WASHINGTON - I write in response to an op-ed by Dan Owens, criticizing the bipartisan farm bill that was overwhelmingly approved by the Senate ("Blame Conrad for defeat of farm-bill reform," Page 4A, Dec. 21). Owens' letter is unfortunately typical of an out-of-state organization that completely lacks a North Dakota perspective.
Owens specifically criticizes me for voting against an amendment to further limit farm payments. To clarify one important point: This amendment would have saved $100 million a year in a bill that costs $57 billion a year. And, it would have cost us the votes necessary to get the supermajority needed to pass the bill on the Senate floor and to be in a position to overcome the president's threatened veto.
When you are in a position of responsibility to get legislation passed, you have to make choices. I made the choice to get final passage of a farm bill that is critically important to North Dakota - where one of every five North Dakotans derives their income directly from agriculture.
Most objective observers would say this farm bill is an extraordinarily good outcome for North Dakota, by strengthening the safety net and putting the nation on a path toward reducing our dependence on foreign oil.
But to get that, I had to have the agreement of other senators. The biggest bloc of other senators was the Southern senators, who represent states with an agricultural economy that is different than ours and who strongly oppose further payment reductions.
Despite the opposition, we did get important new reform in this farm bill, including ending the three-entity rule, requiring direct attribution of farm payments and reducing the income test of nonfarmers from $2.5 million to $750,000. That is not all the reform we would have hoped for, but let's keep it in perspective: As I mentioned above, the additional reform would have saved only $100 million annually in a bill that costs $57 billion a year. That is less than 1/5 of 1 percent savings.
The cost would have been the votes necessary to pass the bill.
Out-of-state interests do not have a responsibility to get a result for North Dakota. I do. And as the U.S. senator for North Dakota, I got a result in this farm bill that will make a profound difference for our state.
Conrad represents North Dakota in the U.S. Senate.