Harkin Says Efforts To Overhaul Farm Policy Likely To Fail

Congress Daily - Deceber 11, 2007

Senate Agriculture Chairman Harkin predicted today that the two biggest challenges to the farm bill would fail. The Senate began debate today on an alternative farm bill proposed by Sens.

Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and a vote was scheduled for today. Harkin and others say senators are not likely to embrace such a major overhaul of farm policy. Harkin said that an amendment to limit farm subsidies sponsored by Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, would pass the Senate with his support, but that it would ultimately be removed in conference. Noting that a similar measure died in conference in 2002, Harkin said, "We may tweak a little bit here and there, but there won't be any big hullabaloo."

Harkin added that Congress should impose a tougher income limit before farmers could receive subsidies. Under current law, people with more than $2.5 million a year in income cannot receive commodity subsidies. The House-passed bill would lower the limit to $1 million, and House Agriculture Chairman Peterson told the Farm Journal Forum Monday night that Congress needs to get the cap below $1 million.

Peterson said the Bush administration is "fixated" on eliminating subsidies for anyone with more than $200,000 in adjusted gross income, and he said he would consider that cap for nonfarmers but not farmers. Articles about people in Beverly Hills and New York City receiving subsidies, Peterson said, should spur Congress to eliminate nonfarmers from the subsidy system even though it would have unanticipated consequences.

Congress has been unwilling to deal with the issue of subsidies for nonfarmers, Peterson said, because "we will affect the grandmas." Under current law, landowners who rent land on a crop share basis get a percentage of the subsidies. If the land owners cannot get subsidies, Peterson said, they will shift from crop share rentals to cash rent. The tenant would get the entire subsidy, but some small farmers say they do not want the system to change because they will be forced to come up with cash rent early in the crop year. Agriculture Department regulations say subsidies are supposed to go only to actively engaged farmers, but USDA is unwilling to enforce those rules. Peterson said that to force the issue, Congress needs to write the rules into law.

Harkin also said he intended to introduce his amendment with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, to change standards for foods and beverages in school vending machines. Harkin said he is surprised that Agriculture ranking member Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., has expressed reservations about the measure because the Georgia-based Coca-Cola Co. and other food and beverage companies are supporting it. A Chambliss spokeswoman said in an e-mail, "There have been no hearings or public review of the standards contained in Sen. Harkin's amendment. They conflict with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Institute of Medicine's report, 'Nutrition Standards for Foods in Schools.' "

Senate Republicans have introduced all 20 of their allotted amendments while Democrats have introduced only five amendments.

-- by Jerry Hagstrom

Get the Newsletter