Washington Former Senate leaders Tom Daschle and Bob Dole suggested Wednesday that the nation's agricultural policy should be reformed, releasing a plan designed to lessen farmer dependence on subsidies.
Daschle, a Democrat from South Dakota, and Dole, a Republican from Kansas, proposed eliminating direct subsidy payments to farmers but retaining countercyclical payments, which pay farmers when prices are low. They also suggested that farmers be encouraged to take part in emerging markets such as renewable fuels to help them stay afloat.
But any attempt to eliminate the direct payments would face staunch opposition from some farm-state members. Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, a senior Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, has been outspoken in his opposition to any effort to trim the program.
The former senators said their proposals could mean a net savings of $4.7 billion to the U.S. Treasury.
"If we're going to have a farm bill this year, we have to demonstrate that the farm bill can be written at a reduced cost to taxpayers," said Daschle, the Senate's top Democrat when Republican John Thune defeated him in 2004.
Daschle was a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and played a major role in writing the last six-year farm bill, passed in 2002. Congress is beginning work on that law's renewal this year.
Dole also was on the committee before he left the Senate in 1996. Lawmakers need to broaden their perspectives when crafting farm policy, he said.
"Enabling farmers to access new markets will increase farm incomes while lowering our existing commodity subsidies," Dole said.
The former senators backed a mandatory cap and trade program designed to reduce greenhouse gases. Such a system would set limits on greenhouse gas emissions but would let companies not meeting the cap buy credits from those in compliance.
Cutting down on carbon dioxide emissions, they said, would make way for the expansion of biofuels. That policy also would encourage increased use of wind and solar power, which could be developed on farm and ranch lands.
The report was published by the Bipartisan Policy Center, a new group aimed at finding policy answers to the nation's biggest issues. The group is directed by four former Senate majority leaders - Daschle, Dole, former Sen. Howard Baker, R-Tenn.; and former Sen. George Mitchell, D-Maine.