Ag Policy Blog
Chris Clayton DTN Ag Policy Editor

Tuesday 10/22/13

Senators Talk About Farm Bill Priorities

A pair of Midwest senators are making sure their concerns are heard on the farm bill as House and Senate Agriculture Committees prepare for formal conference talks even though both senators will be on the outside looking in when it comes to the negotiations.

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., met Tuesday with members of various Minnesota farm organizations ranging from commodity groups, dairy producers and general farm groups. He also held a press call shortly after the meeting ended.

"They need the certainty," Franken said of farmers.

Congress, perhaps, also needs legislation that both parties can support. After a 16-day federal shutdown and partisan rancor, Franken said he thinks that a large contingency in both chambers and parties wants to get something accomplished. In other words, the timing helps the farm bill.

"There is some eagerness of most people in Congress in both Houses to do our jobs," Franken said. "So I actually think this, in a way, creates some momentum to get this done -- finally."

It's in that same vein the House is now bringing its version of the Water Resources Development Act to the floor to move that bill to conference talks as well.

Franken noted there are some small differences between farm groups over commodity and conservation programs. Northern farmers are more supportive of some major changes.

"They don't mind getting rid of the direct payments," he said.

By and large, Franken said Minnesota farmers want a full bill with the nutrition programs added back into the legislation. He also expressed confidence that would happen. The bigger challenge is bridging the difference between the $40 billion in nutrition cuts from the House and the $4 billion cuts passed in the Senate.

Franken also added that conservation compliance was talked about quite a bit between him and the farmers. Franken supports such cross compliance. "I'm for that. I voted for that. I voted for that in 2012," he said. Franked added, "I think it actually brings people in to support the bill. I meet a lot of sportsmen, you know, hunters, Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited. People who want that conservation. They want that CRP. They want our waters clean ... So I am very much for cross-compliance. We have some differences there."

Franken said the Minnesota farm groups also agreed that it was important to keep the 1949 permanent-law provisions in place. The House bill updates language on permanent law to the new legislation once it is enacted.

Earlier in the day, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said resolving the differences in cuts to the SNAP program will be the toughest battle in the conference debate. "But I have no way of judging or answering your question on the possibility," he said. "I can tell you Chairman (Debbie) Stabenow says it has to be a lot less than splitting the difference."

Grassley noted the House didn't support $19 billion in cuts to SNAP earlier last summer. "I think it's a tough compromise and I'm not exactly sure how you do it."

The Iowa senator told reporters he would oppose attaching a final farm bill to a must-pass omnibus funding legislation that could come by December. Grassley said that could lead to changes in the farm bill that weren't necessarily vetted or debated publicly. Grassley has repeatedly argued that no changes should be made regarding payment caps or income eligibility for farm programs because the House and Senate passed similar language. Some conferees oppose such payment caps.

"If you didn’t have a separate debate on the farm bill, it might be easy for the conferees -- just 29 members out of 535 members of Congress -- to get away with things they might not otherwise," he said.

Grassley said he expects the House and Senate conferees will start formal meetings next week when the Senate returns.

Grassley also expressed some concerns about components of the farm bill, such as language that would effectively handcuff the Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration when it comes to making rules on livestock marketing. Grassley also is concerned about the House language on target prices.

Immigration Reform May Stall

On another topic, Grassley said he doesn't think the House and Senate would conference on immigration reform until next year. He also doesn't think it would be a comprehensive bill, meaning the House would not take up legislation that legalizes current people now in the country illegally.

"If it's a real comprehensive bill, I think it's less likely," he said. "If it's a smaller portions of a bill, like, let's say dealing with kids who have come here with their parents who came in illegally, or dealing with illegal immigration or something such as border security, I think we could pass that. If you have a comprehensive bill like passed the Senate, I think it would be tougher to pass that next year."

Grassley is ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and would be involved in any immigration conference talks. An ag-jobs, guest-worker bill could pass and get to conference, he said.

Follow me on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

Posted at 5:34PM CDT 10/22/13 by Chris Clayton
Comments (4)
Franken and Grassley need to wake up and realize that the time has come to stop the insane government spending on government schemes that are stealing from smaller farmers a fair and equal opportunity to compete in agriculture. See http://www.ewg.org/agmag/2013/10/all-over-map
Posted by Wesley Kuster at 8:28PM CDT 10/22/13
So now we're farming for organizations like Pheasants Forever & Ducks Unlimited? How long before recreational "land users" (lawyers, doctors, successful business entrepreneurs) convince congress that they should have unfettered access to our property through conservation easements? You know, we've so much of it, and we're not using it 24/7/365, so what harm can there be? After all, when we go to the city be ablwouldn't we expect e to have a little picnic on their lawn? What harm would there be if we park our farm truck under the shade of a tree and have a siesta? ............... Franken is still NUTZ! ............... Grassley blathers on with his duplicitous BS, as the majority of farmers have no clue that he works on behalf of their economic adversaries, behind the scenes. WHY doesn't anyone ask Grassley about export enhancement subsidies? Farmers need to get out of the forest, and into the helicopter - or maybe the space shuttle. Most of us are missing the BIG PICTURE.
Posted by TX Tumbleweed at 8:47PM CDT 10/22/13
Sen. Franken, A joker by profession, tries to come across as a level headed, farm state Senator. If one scrutinizes, he might well also be voting in favor of many bills and laws which are making it more and more difficult for small farms to continue. Most of us can not afford full time lobbying or lawyers. I wonder where his position is with organizations such as ,HSUS EWG, PANNA. Ride the barb wire fence long enough, one might slip off. Ouch.
Posted by Bonnie Dukowitz at 6:25AM CDT 10/23/13
These open ended government safety nets for farmers make as much sense as government guaranteeing that those congressmen that raise the most millions for reelection shall always be guaranteed those millions every election cycle irregardless of donations. Only evil corrupt politicians would think that this gives their competitors a good chance at winning.
Posted by Sally Benson at 6:34AM CDT 10/23/13
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