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Archive for Sunday, February 17, 2002

New farm bill could disrupt market, says Kansan who voted against it

February 17, 2002

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— The father of today's U.S. farm policy just voted against the next farm bill.

However, Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts was not alone in opposing the measure last week in the Senate, where Democrats hold the majority. Thirty-nine others joined him, including two Democrats.

"We got jammed all the way through this," says Roberts, who believes the Senate bill would push growers to overproduce and distort the market with new, higher loan rates.

It's not a repudiation of the market-oriented 1996 reforms, Roberts says: "It's just a step back."

The House passed a far different version, so now negotiators from each chamber will begin negotiating a final farm bill in the coming weeks.

Yet Roberts, a chief architect of the last farm bill, couldn't get a seat at the table.

The Democratic majority named fewer conferees than usual, and neither Roberts nor any other Great Plains representative will serve on the conference committee. However, Kansas Rep. Jerry Moran is expected to serve as a House negotiator, and Roberts will have the ear of his fellow Kansan as well as other colleagues.

"That would be the height of irony, if the chairman of the Agriculture Committee when we wrote the last farm bill couldn't get on the conference in this farm bill," says former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, a Kansas Democrat who served with Roberts in the House during the last farm bill.

Don't assume Roberts has lost clout. It is entirely possible that after the next election, Roberts will be the top Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, serving as ranking minority member if Democrats retain control or as chairman if the GOP retakes the Senate.

The four more senior Republicans  Indiana's Dick Lugar, Jesse Helms of North Carolina, Mississippi's Thad Cochran and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky  all are expected to move to top positions on other committees, except for Helms, who plans to retire.

"Pat's an All-Star on the farm bill," said Kansas Republican Sen. Sam Brownback. "He is the core of our agriculture policy in the Senate, and I would suggest he is to much degree in the House."

Yet Roberts couldn't get support for a different farm bill that he and Cochran were offering, despite its White House backing.

Roberts blames partisanship for that, but Glickman doesn't see it that way, but he does agree that party politics controls the process.

"Farm bills are much more partisan than they used to be when Pat and I were on the Ag Committee years ago, and Bob Dole was the dominant force in the Senate," Glickman says. "Largely, you would work these things out in a very bipartisan way. That is no longer the case."

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