Missourians in Congress praise new farm bill
WASHINGTON -- President Bush may dislike the farm bill approved Friday by the U.S. House, but his allies there are embracing the $170 billion, 10-year expansion of federal agriculture supports.
"I'd be much more worried about the House not passing anything," said Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., a member of House leadership and one of Bush's top lieutenants in Congress.
While the administration differs on various provisions, Blunt said, "ultimately we need to get this process moving, and there'll be plenty of time to refine the farm bill when we see what the Senate puts on the table."
Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, also a Missouri Republican, quoted a colleague who told her: "The Senate has objectives, the administration has principles and the House has a farm bill." She called it a shot in the arm for producers.
Emerson voted for the farm bill but opposed an amendment that boosts funding for rural development because it is paid for by cuts in annual "market transition" payments.
"I can't in good conscience support policy changes that would make times tougher for farmers than they have already been," said Mrs. Emerson, a member of the Appropriations Committee's farm spending panel.
Blunt said an increase of $1.1 billion will go toward a program aimed at opening foreign markets for U.S. farm products. Combined with giving Bush enhanced powers to negotiate new international trade agreements, Blunt said, the measure ultimately will help reduce trade tariffs.
Trade barrier concerns
However, the White House said the measure's increase in subsidies would undermine efforts to lower foreign trade barriers. The bill sets up a new subsidy program to protect grain, cotton and soybean growers when prices are low, and revives supports for sheep and honey producers, dead since the 1990s.
"We do believe there can be additional things added into the bill to reach a broader number of people and a broader number of farmers," Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said.
Another administration goal is more money for conservation programs that reward farmers for cutting back on fertilizer and animal waste runoff.
But Missouri GOP Rep. Sam Graves said farmers are struggling under a fourth year of record low prices and an economy still tumbling from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"With continued concerns about our economy both in Missouri and across our nation, it is important that Congress reassure farmers that we will continue to assist them through this economic downturn," Graves said.
The White House also says the cash will benefit big farms that need it the least while promoting more price-depressing surpluses of crops.
Gephardt casts no vote
Opposition to the farm bill also comes from the other side of the political spectrum, from Minority Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri. Gephardt cast the only "no" vote in Missouri's nine-member U.S. House delegation.
"I think the greater issue here is how can we come up with a new bill that at least partially, if not fully, effects some needed changes in the underlying policy that will move us in a better direction," Gephardt said.