State Dems favor House farm bill; GOP wavering
Friday, July 27, 2007
WASHINGTON -- Missouri Democrats on Thursday praised the farm bill being considered in the House this week, but Republicans said they are concerned about last-minute provisions that threatened to drive away GOP support for the measure.
Democratic Rep. Ike Skelton, of Lexington, said the bill would help the state's farmers, fund important conservation programs and improve nutrition programs.
"For Missouri's farmers, the 2007 Farm Bill would ensure a strong safety net remains in place to help producers recoup losses when markets collapse," Skelton said.
But Minority Whip Roy Blunt, of Springfield, said his support was wavering as Republicans rebelled against a provision that would raise business taxes to help pay for $4 billion in nutrition programs, such as food stamps.
"I am supportive of the farm bill but troubled by efforts on the other side to blow up a bipartisan bill by including a tax provision that shouldn't be in there and would negatively affect 84,200 jobs in Missouri," Blunt said.
The House planned a final vote today.
Republican Rep. Kenny Hulshof, of Columbia, was planning to vote for the bill earlier this week, but his office said he was in the "undecided" column late Thursday.
Republican Rep. Sam Graves, of Tarkio, the only Missourian on the House Agriculture Committee, declined to comment Thursday, although he made comments supporting the proposal just a day earlier.
But for Republican Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, who represents rural southeast Missouri, the tax issue was not a deal killer. Emerson said she still supported the measure, though she conceded, "It's not perfect for everybody."
Overall, the five-year bill contains some major reforms, such as banning subsidies to farmers with incomes averaging more than $1 million a year and halting farmers from collecting payments for multiple farm businesses.
But the White House has threatened to veto the measure, saying it doesn't go far enough. The administration wants to halt payments to farmers who earn an average of $200,000 or more a year.
Some reform-minded lawmakers pushed an alternative bill that would replace subsidies with government-subsidized savings accounts and instead boost conservation programs, aid for specialty crops and nutrition and rural development programs.
Those reforms are unlikely to overcome the concerns of lawmakers from farm states.
Democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, of Kansas City, said the bill is about helping farmers make ends meet in rural America.
"This is not about a handout," Cleaver said. "Rather, it is about maintaining and supporting the families that have sustained and fed our nation for so long."
Emerson said the end result is "realistic" given competing demands and praised the bill for increasing funding for research and development of alternative fuels.
The National Cattlemen's Beef Association supports the bill because it includes more money and flexibility for conservation programs and a compromise that would require meats and other foods to be labeled with their country of origin.
The National Corn Growers Association and the American Soybean Association also have backed the proposal.
Democratic Rep. William Lacy Clay, of St. Louis, lauded the measure for "improving the health and nutrition of our citizens." The legislation includes an amendment Clay offered that would allow the Department of Agriculture to help groups that create organic gardens and greenhouses to produce locally grown fruits and vegetables.
The current farm law expires Sept. 30. The Senate is expected to begin considering its version of the bill in September.