Senator Max Baucus of Montana unveiled a plan this week that would create a permanent provision in the Farm Bill to compensate farmers and ranchers for losses due to natural disasters. Critics, however, claim the proposal itself could be a disaster.
According to the Environmental Working Group, or EWG, if the Baucus plan was in force over the past two decades, more than half of the $21 billion paid in disaster assistance would have gone to producers in just nine states. EWG president Ken Cook told Market to Market he will release a more detailed analysis of the data next week.
And as policy makers get into the fine print of future farm policy, it's all about the money...
The budget battle over the 2007 farm bill is in full swing. As lawmakers on Capitol Hill try to hammer out a new spending bill for the nation's farmers and ranchers, Montana Sen. Max Baucus is proposing a solution to budget woes.
Baucus, the Senate Finance Committee chairman, proposes giving farmers tax credits instead of cash payments for conservation programs. He estimates the agriculture-related tax incentives for other programs like bioenergy and rural economic development could trim $8 to $10 billion off an already bloated farm bill budget.
The tax credit suggestion comes at a time when framers of the 2007 farm bill are scrambling to allocate funds and comply with strict pay-as-you-go rules. The restrictions, installed by this year's Democratic majority, force lawmakers to find necessary funds to pay for programs without deficit spending.
But Senate Agriculture Chairman Tom Harkin is struggling to balance conservation and nutrition programs with another Finance Committee proposal to develop a disaster assistance trust fund.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa: "The reason I haven't reported a farm bill out of the committee is because I don't have enough money. We have to put more money in conservation, at a time when we're taking more land out and putting more land in production because of the demands for ethanol and biofuels, we need more conservation work."
Harkin is likely to push for a Senate mark-up of the 2007 farm bill as early as late September. But an actual floor vote may come much later. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns is hopeful that the 2007 farm bill will actually be passed in calendar year 2007.
Current farm law expires September 30 but lawmakers insist a short-term extension is a top priority.