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House farm bill getting better looking every day

The seemingly disorganized, chaotic “work ethic” of the House Agriculture Committee is starting to look more appealing to farm organizations.

When the House passed its farm bill in July, Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., had to delay his press conference twice as he and other Democrats tried to tie up the loose ends.

But with the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry not having scheduled a mark-up session more than two months later, Peterson and the House ag committee are beginning to look like models of efficiency.

As noted in this space a few weeks ago, Congress did not have to complete a new farm bill by Sept. 30, when most of the 2002 farm bill expired. Commodity programs will continue to run through the harvest seasons of the 2008 crops.

Many would prefer Congress simply change the date on the 2002 farm bill. But just enough has happened to make farm leaders want to see most of the provisions of the House farm bill law enacted.

On Sept. 28, 60 “farm” organizations, ranging from the American Farm Bureau to the YWCA, signed a letter to the majority and minority leaders of the Senate and the chairman and ranking member of the Senate ag committee, asking them to expedite action on the farm bill.

“While our organizations have differences on policy recommendations, we believe it is vitally important the Senate Agriculture Committee mark up and pass a 2007 farm bill as soon as possible,” read the letter signed by the American Soybean Association, National Corn Growers Association, National Cotton Council, U.S. Rice Producers Association and USA Rice Federation.

The letter said farmers need certainty on the policy environment in which they will operate next year. It noted several conservation and nutrition programs expired on Sept. 30, “programs which needed to be reauthorized and adequately funded.

“Extending the 2002 farm bill is not an acceptable alternative to enacting new legislation. Extension is only a short-term solution that does not provide the assurances the nutrition, agriculture and conservation communities need for efficient, long-term planning.”

Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, ag committee chairman, said he will seek a one-month extension of the current law as a stop-gap. He has also said the committee will consider a new farm bill prior to the Columbus Day recess the week of Oct. 8 (or it might occur the week of Oct. 15).

The problem continues to be money. Harkin and his staff and other ag committee members have been meeting with Senate Finance Committee leaders to find offsets to provide more funding for disaster and for conservation and nutrition programs.

The latter is considering changes to tax, tariff and Social Security provisions that could generate savings of $12 billion over 10 years with $5 billion going to a permanent disaster program.

The protracted pace is wearing thin with farm organizations. Passing the House farm bill, warts and all, is looking more like a winner.

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