Members of the nation's largest farm organization are asking Congress and the Bush administration to quickly enact a comprehensive new farm bill that maintains an adequate safety net for farmers and ranchers.
Delegates to the American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting passed a “sense of the delegate body” resolution urging a swift conference by House and Senate members to reconcile the differences in the farm bill versions passed by the two chambers.
“It's important we come out of this delegate session sending a clear message to Chairman Peterson, Chairman Harkin and the administration that we do want a farm bill; we want it now; get it done,” said Illinois Farm Bureau President Philip Nelson. (Peterson and Harkin chair the House and Senate agriculture committees.)
Nelson's resolution on Jan. 15 was the first order of business as the AFBF began its policy discussions at the meeting in New Orleans. The delegates also said they do not favor extending the current farm law one or two years.
“Farm Bureau members unanimously agreed that a one- or two-year extension of the farm bill only makes it more difficult to write a bill in the future,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman. “The delegate body also strongly expressed support for President Bush to sign the farm bill into law once the House-Senate conference is completed.”
Members of the House and Senate ag committee staffs have been meeting to find areas of common ground between the measures passed by the House last July and the Senate in December.
Sens. Harkin, D-Iowa; Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.; have also been meeting with Peterson and other House members — and Peterson with Acting Agriculture Secretary Chuck Conner — to try to find a way around the farm bill impasse that has developed between Congress and the administration.
The vote on the sense of the delegate body resolution came after Conner told Farm Bureau members attending the New Orleans meeting he would recommend President Bush veto the farm bill if it comes in either of the forms passed by the House or Senate.
He said the administration has concerns about what's in the House and Senate farm bills and what's missing from them.
“First and foremost, we are concerned about the fact that both versions of the farm bill call for tax increases to fund new and expanded programs,” said Conner. “The president has been quite clear about his position on raising taxes. He is against them.
“We simply don't believe other sectors of our economy should be asked to pay additional taxes for programs in the farm bill — especially when the current versions of the bill fail to reform farm payments even to non-farmers living on Park Avenue.”
Administration officials are also concerned about the trade-distorting effects of increasing target prices and loan rates — as both bills would do, said Conner. “At a time when we have record exports, record farm income, good prices, we don't need to paint a bull's eye on our farmers' backs.”
Neither the House nor the Senate has gone far enough toward imposing a meaningful income limit on participation in farm programs, he added. Nor have they gone very far toward reforming the way beneficial interest is applied in marketing loan transactions.
Stallman set the tone of the Farm Bureau meeting when he said in a press conference at its start that farmers weren't interested in complaints about tax increases and “budget gimmicks. They just want Congress and the administration to complete work on the farm bill in time for the 2008 planting season.”