Farm bill debated at Farmfestby Tim Post, Minnesota Public Radio
The country's top agriculture leaders were at the annual gathering Farmfest in Redwood Falls on Tuesday. They took part in a public forum on the new Farm bill currently before Congress.
The discussion was heated at times as Minnesota U.S. Rep. Colin Peterson and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns aired their disagreements over the latest version of that legislation.
Redwood Falls, Minn. — A huge white tent provided humid shade at best for hundreds of farmers at the Farmfest grounds near Redwood Falls.
Sitting on stage in front of the crowd, Minnesota U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, who chairs the House Agriculture Committee, gives the recently passed version of the house farm bill a muted thumbs up.
"It's not perfect but it's pretty good," Peterson says. "The more people look at it, they more they'll like it."
Peterson says his committee used the 2002 farm bill as a guide for the latest version. He says the biggest change comes in cutting subsidies and conservation payments that have made their way to non-farmers in the past. Peterson also reminds the crowd that, although it sounds odd, farmers are not a big part of the Farm Bill.
"We are spending less than 12 percent on farmers. Over 68 percent of the farm bill is for nutrition, for food stamps and the other feeding programs," he says.
Sitting just to Peterson's right was U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns. Johanns congratulates Peterson on getting a new Farm Bill passed in the House, but also tells the crowd at this point in the process of fashioning a new bill, he and the president aren't sold on the house version.
"We show our hand," Johanns explains. "We say, 'We like this, we don't like that. We'll sign, we'll veto.' That's part of the process at this point."
One of the problems the Bush administration has with the new bill is the removal of a provision giving tax deductions to multinational corporations. Johanns said those tax breaks help the nation.
"Do they have foreign ownership? Yes, of course they do. That is such a normal thing in your communities these days," Johanns says. "And are they doing all they can to maximize whatever advantage they have from tax policy, yes. Is there anybody in this tent that would do differently?"
Johanns is afraid removing the provisions could also break international trade treaties. He calls the removal of those tax breaks a tax hike.
That where Secretary Johanns and U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson disagree. Peterson says the house version of the bill closed a tax loophole. He says that freed up $7.5 billion that can be used to help fund programs for farmers.
"There is no damn reason in the world that we have U.S. Treasury employees, U.S. State Department employees going out and negotiating treaties so we give foreign corporations a better deal than U.S. corporations, give me a break," Peterson says.
Minnesota U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman also sat in on the farm bill discussion. Coleman says he'll support putting the tax breaks back into the bill when it's taken up by the Senate next month.
But he also says Rep. Peterson has done a good job at working with both sides of the aisle on the farm bill issue, something he hopes the Senate and the president can do too.
"We need this White House in the farm bill," Coleman says. "I will tell my friend the Secretary that the White House shouldn't veto this farm bill, that they simply should not veto the farm bill."
The agriculture secretary told Coleman and the crowd that passing a new farm bill is exactly what the president wants to do. But he says that would only happen with what he calls a farm bill that makes sense. Johanns says that's what he's hoping for before the end of the year.
- All Things Considered, 08/07/2007, 5:54 p.m.