Monday, May 12, 2008

President Will Veto House-Senate Farm Bill Compromise

May 8: Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry and of the Senate-House conference committee on the new farm bill, announced a final farm bill conference agreement with principal negotiators at a press conference on Capitol Hill [See WIMS 4/29/08]. He said the agreement will lead to a formal conference report, which will then be passed by the Senate and House before being sent to the White House.

Immediately Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer issued a statement saying, "Today, the United States House and Senate announced the completion of a farm bill that unfortunately fails to include much needed reform and increases spending by nearly $20 billion. At a time of record farm income, Congress decided to further increase farm subsidy rates, qualify more people for taxpayer support, and move programs toward more government control. We should not remove farm commodities from market forces and make them dependent upon government support programs. . . For a year and a half, the Administration has been consistently clear that Congress needs to move forward with a good farm bill that the President can sign. They have failed to do so. This legislation lacks meaningful farm program reform and expands the size and scope of government. I have visited face to face with our President and he was direct and plain. The President will veto this bill."

In announcing the compromise bill, Senator Harkin said, “This is a strong, bipartisan farm bill that benefits every American from Cumming, Iowa, population 162 to New York City, population 8 million. The bill provides a strong safety net, so it’s good for our farmers and producers. Consumers will like it because it will increase farmers’ markets and ensure a safe, dependable supply of high quality food. For low-income Americans, it ensures nutrition needs are met and for school children, increases their access to fresh fruits and vegetables. And as production increases, the farm bill will ensure our precious natural resources are protected. . .

“To meet soaring worldwide demand for food and energy crops, millions of new acres of land are being brought into production, including environmentally fragile land. To address this challenge, we authorize nearly $4.4 billion in additional funds for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program over the next 10 years. With this support, the Conservation Stewardship Program will enroll nearly 13 million acres each year. . . All-time high gasoline prices are wreaking havoc with family budgets, but, without the inputs of biofuels, prices at the pump would be as much as 50 cents higher. The new farm bill will dramatically ramp up the agricultural sector’s capacity to produce clean renewable energy. Significantly, it provides more than $1 billion to expand the supply of biofuels made from biomass and crop byproducts other than grain. The bill also provides new support to farmers who grow energy crops, and to entrepreneurs who build refineries to convert biomass into fuel.”

Harkin issued a separate statement on the President's announced veto plans saying, "Like any compromise bill resulting from hard bargaining among regional and other interests, this farm bill is far from perfect. But no piece of legislation is. It includes significant reforms, as well as these major advances. It deserves the President’s signature. Inexplicably, the White House seems intent on destroying the harvest just as the seeds are being planted."

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), an active participant in the Farm Bill issue, said the compromise bill was a "mixed bag." They said, "The good news is that conference committee members recognized the need to boost conservation funding at a time when very high commodity prices are increasing pressure on our land, water, and important wildlife habitat. The bad news is that this new funding falls short of what’s needed to provide farmers, ranchers, and private forest landowners with the resources they need to help us solve some of the nation’s biggest environmental problems.” EDF also criticized the House-Senate conference committee for increasing, rather than decreasing, farm subsidies.

Access a release from Senator Harkin and link to a 12-page summary of the compromise bill (click here). Access the Senate Farm Bill Conference website (click here). Access Harkin's statement on the President's announced veto (click here). Access the House Farm Bill website including links to audio and video of the press conference (click here). Access legislative details for H.R. 2419 (click here). Access a May 8 release from USDA (click here). Access an audio (click here) and transcript of a May 9 USDA press conference on the bill (click here). Access the USDA Farm Bill website (click here). Access a release from EDF (click here). [*All, *Agriculture]