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Archive for Friday, July 27, 2007

Democrats, Republicans split on farm bill

July 27, 2007

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— Kansas lawmakers on both sides of the aisle generally support the farm bill being considered in the House this week, but Republicans said Thursday they are concerned about last-minute provisions that threatened to drive away GOP support for the measure.

Democratic Rep. Nancy Boyda, of Topeka, said the bill "strikes the right balance" in providing a safety net for farmers while also increasing money for nutrition programs such as food stamps.

Boyda, a member of the House Agriculture Committee who worked to help craft the bill, and fellow Democrat Dennis Moore, of Lenexa, both said they planned to vote for the measure.

But Republican Jerry Moran, an Agriculture Committee member who represents western Kansas, was wavering late Thursday as Republicans rebelled against a provision that would raise business taxes to help pay for $4 billion in nutrition programs.

"We have worked hard to get the 2007 Farm Bill to the best version possible," Moran said. "However, the bill has only become worse since others outside of the Agriculture Committee have become involved in the process."

The House planned a final vote today.

Republican Rep. Todd Tiahrt, of the Wichita area, said there were so many last-minute changes late Thursday, he was still trying to figure out which version would come to the floor.

Tiahrt said it appeared the bill would cut $1 billion from crop insurance programs, a result he called unacceptable given that nearly every county in Kansas was declared a disaster area this year. He also complained that the measure includes other tax increases totaling $10 billion.

"If my understanding of the way it came out of the rules committee is correct, I would vote no," Tiahrt said. "My concern is that we'll lose jobs over this bill."

Moran said his ultimate support for the bill would depend on whether it meets the needs of the state's farmers and ranchers. One amendment that Moran added to the bill would allow grazing and crop production on land that is designated for groundwater conservation. The law currently pays farmers to keep land idle and not irrigate as a way to conserve water.

"This amendment will help conserve water resources while ensuring the doors of agriculture businesses in our Kansas towns and communities remain open," Moran said.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association supports the bill because it includes more money and flexibility for conservation programs and a compromise that would require meats and other foods to be labeled with their country of origin.

The National Corn Growers Association and the American Soybean Association also have backed the proposal.

The five-year bill contains some major reforms, such as banning subsidies to farmers with incomes averaging more than $1 million a year and halting farmers from collecting payments for multiple farm businesses.

But the White House has threatened to veto the measure, saying it doesn't go far enough. The administration wants to halt payments to farmers who earn an average of $200,000 or more a year.

Some reform-minded lawmakers pushed an alternative bill that would replace subsidies with government subsidized savings accounts. Farmers would use those accounts to cover losses when crop prices are low or yields are poor.

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