Iowa Public Television


Senate Takes Up Farm Bill

posted on November 9, 2007

Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. Equity markets were shaken again this week as investors coped with increasing fallout from the credit crisis and an ever-weakening dollar.

**The Dow Jones Industrial Average endured two more sizable declines and now has lost more than 900 points since closing at an all-time high of 14,165 one month ago. Still, the Dow is more than 900 points above last year at this time.

U.S. **economic growth is predicted to slow in the coming months, but Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told members of Congress this week he believes the economy will rebound by mid-2008. **However, the Fed chairman cautioned that higher commodity prices -- -- everything from gold to gasoline -- -- are renewing concerns about inflation.

Higher commodity prices also are getting the attention of lawmakers as they draft the next multi-year federal law governing farm policy. This week, farm state lawmakers brought their $286 billion version of the Farm Bill to the Senate floor.


Senate Takes Up Farm Bill

Debate began with the expected bipartisan friendliness.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa: "I thank our ranking member, the senior Senator from Georgia, Saxby Chambliss, for his leadership and partnership in producing the bill..."

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Georgia: "Mr. President, I begin by letting everybody know this is a mutual admiration society. Senator Harkin has been a great chairman of the Agriculture Committee."

As it stands, The Farm, Nutrition, and Bioenergy Act of 2007 is setup to:

-increase spending for nutrition programs

-provide more funds for conservation programs

-allocate money for energy crops

-ban packer ownership of cattle

-create a permanent disaster aid program

-And reinstate the Country of Origin Labeling program.

According to the authors of the bill, the nearly $290 billion dollar price tag was taken care of despite having $20 billion less to work with than in 2002.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-North Dakota: "This farm bill is going to be less than 2 percent of total Federal expenditure, and the commodity provisions that draw the fire are one-quarter of 1 percent."

Though championed as a bipartisan effort, even proponents say the legislation is far from perfect.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa: " I have been fighting for real payment limitations since the last farm bill...Presently, we have 10 percent of the large farmers in America getting 72 percent of all the money... there is something wrong when we have subsidies and farm programs going to big farmers who are getting bigger partly because of subsidies."

Government payments to farmers are, by far, the most controversial part of the bill. Though Senator Conrad claims the subsidies account for only one-quarter of one percent of the now multi-trillion dollar annual federal budget, the payments remain as the major sticking point of World Trade Organization negotiations.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-North Dakota: "What happens if you pull the rug out from under our producers? What would happen? Mass bankruptcy, that is what would happen."

In 2002, Senators waded through more than 250 amendments en route to passage of the Farm Bill. But a strange twist occurred early in this week's debate.

Waiting in the wings were amendments ranging from payment limits to immigration reform to withdrawing troops from Iraq. Majority Leader Harry Reid, however, decided to limit amendments to only those things he felt were germane. The Nevada Democrat told the body he was trying to keep things moving along. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky objected immediately saying Reid was trying to "fill the tree" with his own amendments and unfairly controlling debate.

With debate currently stalled, some Senators are predicting the issue won't be resolved until February of next year. The White House has already voiced displeasure with the bill and President Bush said he would veto the bill if it comes to his desk in its current form.


Tags: agriculture Congress government markets news policy