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House members bring new proposal to conference

The proposal would also reduce the limitation on fixed or AMTA payments 20 percent from $50,000 per person to $40,000, on the new counter-cyclical payments about 13 percent from $75,000 to $65,000 and on loan deficiency payments and marketing loan gains from $150,000 to $75,000.

The latter would also retain current rules on husbands and wives, the three-entity rule and “actively engaged.” Growers could continue to use generic certificates, but persons with adjusted gross incomes of more than $2.5 million would not be eligible for farm program payments.

Sen. Tom Harkin, R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said the Senate conferees would review the proposal this afternoon and try to return with a counter-proposal.

Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, reminding conference members that many farmers in the South were waiting on planting their fields to hear what program they would be farming under, moved that Senate members of the conference adopt the House proposal. Harkin did not take a vote on Cochran’s motion.

The House proposal was made at the first open session of the conference in a week. House Agriculture Committee and Conference Chairman Larry Combest confirmed conference negotiators had not reached a final agreement on the farm bill. But, he said, he felt it was time to have an open meeting.

“We’re serious about concluding the farm bill,” he said. “Keep in mind this is not a time for speech making, but, rather, to try to seriously negotiate differences and to try to come to conclusions.”

Combest, a Texas Republican, said the session was an attempt to “give all members of the House and Senate conference an opportunity to express their views. We have discussed what various titles we will consider at various times so members can put a timeframe within that discussion, so we just didn’t go on and on forever. The Senate will be discussing the differences they have with us and will have an opportunity to outline differences.”

Harkin said he believed the conference negotiators, who included Combest, Rep. Charlie Stenholm, ranking minority member on the House Ag Committee, Harkin and Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., had “made great progress, despite what people on the outside might think” in their closed sessions.

“We have a better appreciation on this side (Senate) as to how you feel and vice versa,” he said. “These are tough negotiations. Interests in agriculture vary, from California to Vermont. We must put a balance that will work and I believe every conferee has been doing that.”

Stenholm admitted to some frustration in not being able to bring a final bill to the conference, but said House conferees were ready to make a renewed effort to pass a new farm bill.

“This is not a take it or leave it offer from the House,” he noted. “Let the legislative process work. You make a proposal. The other side either accepts it or rejects it or makes a counter-proposal. That is what I see this doing. Let's get on with it.

“There is a lot in here,” said Harkin, referring to the House conferees proposal. “Some things are different than what we have discussed over the last two days. The dairy number is way short. There will be a strong feeling that loan rates are too low. On peanuts, there is a willingness to work out a program.

“On payment limits, again, we will have to actively engage. There is a strong feeling on our side that not only does there have to be some limit lower than what we have now, but there must be some reform, including the use of generic certificates.”

Differences also would have to be resolved on the conservation programs and their funding, he said. “I thought we had reached agreements at the staff level on how the money would be spent. On the trade program, I think on the totals we will be pretty close, but again, there will be differences on how that is divided up I think we have some differences.”

For more information on the House proposal, go to the House Agriculture Committee Web site:


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