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Lott, Mississippi farmers mending fences

Are Mississippi farmers ready to “kiss and make up” with the junior senator from their state? In case you've been away, growers have been upset with Trent Lott and, to a lesser extent, Thad Cochran, since the Senate failed to pass a new farm bill before Christmas.

Mississippi growers attending the Beltwide Cotton Conferences in early January were still hot about Lott's perceived lack of leadership in helping pass a cloture motion that would have ended the farm bill debate.

While Lott reportedly has been “catching it” since coming home for the holidays, some Mississippi leaders have been trying to defuse the situation, quietly reminding their growers of Lott and Cochran's roles in past legislative battles.

“We have never passed a partisan farm bill, and the bill Sen. Daschle tried to pass before Christmas was a partisan bill,” said one. “The same thing happened in 1995 when Pat Roberts tried to ram a partisan bill through the House. It was vetoed, and we didn't get a farm bill until 1996.”

The speaker's point was that the legislation being pushed by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle wasn't going anywhere without bipartisan support even if the Senate had passed it.

Those comments were echoed by the National Cotton Council's Craig Brown during a farm bill update for recipients of the Stoneville, Miss.-based Delta Council's Beltwide scholarships.

Asked about Lott's role in the farm bill debacle, Brown said, “Sen. Lott will have to be part of the solution to the problem. The Senate will have to deal with more than the farm bill when it returns, but the farm bill is caught up in this, and until they decide those issues, it's not going anywhere.

“We know that Sen. Lott and Sen. Cochran are concerned about the farm bill, and we just have to keep sending the message about its importance.”

Brown agreed that the impasse is creating hardships for producers. “We're hearing that lenders who were anticipating a new farm bill are holding up on financing. One farmer told me here at the Beltwide that he couldn't borrow enough money to pay his taxes.”

Council leaders have strongly supported the House bill, but did not take a hard position in the Senate. “We could have supported the Daschle bill or the Cochran-Roberts amendment,” Brown noted. “What we said was that we need a bill because nothing is going to happen until the Senate passes a bill.”

Lott has been telling farm leaders that he expects the farm bill to be the second piece of legislation — after campaign reform — the Senate will take up when it returns. He has said he anticipates three or four days of debate and then passage.

No matter how annoyed Mississippi farmers may be with him, Lott's role will be pivotal because he is obviously the president's man in the Senate. And, if anything has become clear in this debate, it's that the Senate cannot muster the votes to override a farm bill veto.

“At the end of the day, we know that that Sen. Lott and Cochran will be there for us just like they've been in each of the last three years,” the farm leader said.

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