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House farm bill vote wake-up for call Senate?

After being given up for dead several times in recent weeks, a 2001 farm bill seems to be taking on new life following the House leadership's decision to take up and pass their legislation.

To be sure, House leaders took their licks after they announced plans to consider the Farm Security Act beginning Oct. 3. Farm-state senators, administration officials and even the Wall Street Journal criticized them for “debating a farm bill in the middle of a war,” as one senator put it.

As they worked their way through the 60 amendments offered to the House bill, lawmakers continually referred to the need for new farm programs as a “national security” issue.

That was in response to a Journal editorial ridiculing the Farm Security Act, calling it, among other things, an attempt to “turn peanut subsidies into an essential feature of the war on terror.”

Although the Journal editorial, “Nuts to You,” contained little more misinformation than many of the statements on the House floor, it had a particularly nasty tone, especially given the outpouring of support for New Yorkers from the countryside following the Sept. 11 attacks.

Missing from the Journal editorial and the posturing by farm bill opponents for the House TV cameras was any mention of the sacrifices U.S. farmers have made for their country over the last 25 years, often in the name of “national security.”

There was the Russian grain embargo ordered by President Carter following the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. That and a similar action by President Nixon helped establish Brazil in the soybean business, probably forever dooming U.S. farmers to low oilseed prices.

Then, there are the ongoing economic sanctions against Cuba, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, major markets for U.S. rice or other commodities. Those sanctions — all employed to accomplish some national policy objective — have cost farmers billions of dollars.

And what about monetary policy? The current and previous administrations' efforts to maintain a strong dollar have literally laid waste the U.S. textile industry and damaged other important segments of the U.S. economy.

Farmers have raised few objections to legislation providing $40 billion to New York to help it recover from the attacks and rebuild the area around the World Trade Center — where the Journal's offices are. Most would agree the death and destruction was the result of an act of war.

On the farm bill, the Senate Agriculture Committee may be shedding its lethargy following the House vote. Sources say Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle has given the committee two weeks to report out a farm bill. Otherwise, Daschle, who wants help for his South Dakota wheat growers, plans to introduce the House bill.

Administration officials, finally announcing its opposition to the House bill on the debate eve, now say they look forward to working with the Senate. Speaking at a press conference after the House vote, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said she hoped a Senate bill would include more emphasis on trade and “a market-oriented safety net that doesn't cause more harm than good.”

For farmers still doing their part to help with national security front, the debate won't come soon enough.

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