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Harkin: 'Payment limit' fight may go to Senate floor

Senate Agriculture Committee members appear to be at loggerheads on new payment limit language in the 2007 farm bill, a situation that could mean any new rules would be debated on the Senate floor.

Committee Chairman Tom Harkin reportedly has told fellow Iowa Senator Charles Grassley he will include Grassley’s payment limitation legislation in the chairman’s mark he presents to the committee in October.

The legislation, which has been introduced in previous years by Grassley and Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., would bar any farmer and his spouse from receiving more than a total of $250,000 in direct, counter-cyclical and marketing loan gains or loan deficiency payments per year.

But Harkin told reporters listening in on his weekly telephone press conference that the fate of the Grassley-Dorgan language in the Senate Agriculture Committee version of the farm bill is uncertain.

“I don't know yet,” he said in response to a question about Grassley-Dorgan. “Again, this is one of those things we’re trying to work out.”

Harkin, Grassley and other Midwest members have indicated they support stricter payment rules, but Southern senators, including Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., the ranking member from Georgia, Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., and Thad Cochran, R-Miss., are opposed.

Most observers believe that if Harkin had the votes for the Grassley-Dorgan language — and budget offsets from the Senate Finance Committee — he would have already scheduled a mark-up session for the new farm bill.

“Keep in mind, it may be the floor of the Senate where we actually get it done," he told reporters, indicating he isn’t sure a majority of the members of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Nutrition will approve the new limits.

Harkin was also asked his thoughts about the adjusted gross income eligibility criteria in the House-passed farm bill. The latter denies payments to anyone who reports more than an average of $1 million in adjusted gross income on his federal income tax return over three years.

While he declined to give a figure, Harkin said the Senate bill could include an AGI limit between the House’s $1 million cutoff and the $200,000 AGI limit in the Bush administration’s farm bill proposal. (The House bill also denies payments to anyone with an AGI of more than $500,000 who earns less than a third of their income from farming.)

He also said he thought it was possible the ag committee farm bill could provide farmers with both a permanent disaster assistance program and a revenue-based counter-cyclical program.

“I think there is a way to do a revenue CCP and have a modest disaster assistance program,” Harkin said. “I think we can accommodate both, and I plan to do so.”


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