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COLUMN: Senators' comments stealing spirit of Christmas

“I am not going to get into the merits or demerits of the American farm program or this bill,” said Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas. “I can sum up my own feelings by simply saying that America’s farm program would make an old commissar from the Soviet Union puke.”

Gramm, speaking during the Senate’s debate, or lack of debate, on the Agriculture Committee farm bill, S. 1731, was speaking about re-writing Freedom to Farm months before it actually expired and how it was detracting from other, “more pressing” business.

Then, Minority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi said the Senate should vote on the trade promotion authority bill first. “If we really want to do something to help the economy and help agriculture, we would open up more markets,” he noted.

Obviously, Sen. Lott had not seen USDA’s latest forecast that U.S. cotton exports will reach the highest level in 75 years this year, but cotton prices are not expected to climb out of depression-era levels for some time.

Pat Roberts of Kansas criticized farm organizations for not doing their homework. “Too many farm organizations have simply come in and viewed the farm bill as an ATM machine, and they haven’t reviewed the policy,” he said.

Those were tough words for a group of lobbyists generally recognized as the most knowledgeable and ablest spokesmen for their industry of any in Washington.

Even the Democrats got into the act with Sen. Robert Torricelli of New Jersey taking up two hours of debate threatening to launch a filibuster because of a provision in S. 1731 that would reduce barriers for trade with Cuba.

Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota offered the strongest rebuke to Gramm’s slam. “Farmers would have been stunned to hear the speech of the Senator from Texas because in his world the economics of what happens to farmers just doesn’t matter,” said Conrad.

As for Gramm’s comments that the farm bill doesn’t run out for nine months, Conrad said: “Effectively, this farm bill expired four years ago because that is when we started writing disaster assistance bills for agriculture because prices were the lowest they had been in 50 years.”

And for Gramm’s claim that the bill was over budget…”This bill is not one penny over budget,” said Conrad. “If he really believes what he says, he should bring a budget point of order against this bill. He won’t do it because the fact is the bill is not over budget.”

As the planned Christmas adjournment nears, there is little optimism that the Senate would be able be able to overcome the many obstacles being thrown up to completing its work on a farm bill before Christmas.

Here’s hoping that the hearts of some senators will mellow over the holidays and the Senate will come back to work in January, ready to move on legislation that will help farmers through one of their most trying periods in history.

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