Harkin Farm Bill Proposal Extends Supports
At 9.90; All-Out Compact Effort Expected
Washington–US Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, outlined a new farm bill proposal Thursday that extends the milk price support program at $9.90 per hundredweight through 2006, with additional dairy provisions to be supplied.
Harkin’s four-pronged strategy highlights conservation, income protection, jobs and economic growth in rural America, and energy. Regarding conservation, Harkin would create a Conservation Security Act that provides flexible incentives for farmers to employ new conservation practices and rewards farmers who already employ them.
Regarding income protection and commodities, Harkin’s proposal increases loan rates for most commodities, sets a floor on those rates and continues fixed direct payments.
Harkin’s Rural Development Title provides grant and loan programs to help create and expand businesses to provide jobs. Highlights include programs that will provide equity capital for businesses that want to start or expand in rural America. The title creates a National Rural Cooperative and Business Equity Fund with matching government and private capital to create a national fund designed to boost equity for rural America. The title also expands grants for farmer-based groups to help them add value to their production.
Finally, Harkin’s Energy title establishes a renewable energy development grant program, creates a competitive energy audit and renewable energy development program to administer farmer, rancher and rural small business energy audits and renewable energy development assessments, and gives financial and technical assistance for renewable energy systems.
Harkin’s committee began its farm bill markup on Wednesday of this week, and plans to continue on its markup schedule next week.
“In spite of the special challenges we all faced this fall, I intend to continue to move ahead on the farm bill,” Harkin said. “We should take full advantage of the time remaining this session to pass this important legislation.”
There are currently five versions of a Senate farm bill being discussed among senators and lobbyists, including a proposal introduced recently by United States Senator Dick Lugar (R-IN), ranking minority member on the Agriculture Committee.
The Bush administration, meanwhile, “has been, and continues to be actively engaged in discussions with congressional leaders, commodity groups and others, to ensure a continued farm bill process that allows many voices to be heard,” US Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman commented Thursday.
“There are many different ideas and proposals being discussed about what direction future farm policy should take,” Veneman added. “We are committed to supporting the appropriate funding for farm policy that provides a market-oriented safety net for our farmers, meets our trade obligations, and addresses other important issues such as conservation, rural development, and nutrition.”
Lobbyists Want Compact Renewal
Lobbying groups representing states that want to participate in dairy compacts will spend close to $1 million this year trying to persuade Congress to renew and expand the Northeast Dairy Compact, according to interviews and lobbying reports.
States like Wisconsin and Minnesota, which oppose compacts, have not organized anything similar to counter those efforts, instead relying on strategically placed lawmakers and trade groups like the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA). The Northeast Dairy Compact expired Sept. 30.
An effort to get a vote on compact legislation failed in the House because the Judiciary Chairman, Jim Sensenbrenner, (R-WI), refused to hold a hearing on it. Backers are hoping for better luck in the Senate, but are likely to run into another Wisconsin roadblock–Democrat Herb Kohl, who chairs the Agriculture Appropriations subcommittee.
The Governor’s Council for Interstate Compacts, which represents 25 states that want to participate in dairy compacts, is taking its fight to a higher authority.
Last week, a dozen Northeast and Southern governors from the group wrote to congressional leaders, urging them to allow a vote.
“We are concerned that a vocal minority is jeopardizing our right to be fairly considered by Congress,” wrote the governors.
The Governor’s Council, which was just formed this year, spent $200,000 in lobbying costs pushing dairy compacts through June 30, according to the group’s latest lobbying report. Executive director Andrew Meyer said the group will probably spend $400,000 by year’s end. The group is funded by contributions from individual states, and so far has tapped only a fraction of its members.
Vermont, which is home to the Northeast Dairy Compact Commission, contributed $200,000 to the effort; Connecticut, Kentucky and New York contributed $100,000 each; and Louisiana $50,000. That gives the Governor’s Council a $550,000 war chest that it can dip into next year if efforts fail this year–and possibly more, if other states contribute, as expected.
Meyer said he works through a “core group” of 39 members of Congress and their staffs, who reach out to undecided lawmakers on the issue.
Working with the Governor’s Council is a group called the States Ratification Committee, which spent $250,000 in the first half of the year and expects to spend $600,000 lobbying for compacts this year. That’s comparable to what they’ve spent in previous years.
“The feeling was that with the farm bill coming up, this was the year to get it done or be in a position to get it done,” said Bob Gray, the committee’s executive director.
But a defeat this year would not end the states’ efforts, he said.
“They’ll keep pounding at it, I’m pretty sure of that,” he said.