When Congressman Ron Kind, D-Wis., introduced legislation aimed at overhauling the farm bill during debate on the measure in 2002, his amendment fell just a handful of votes short of passage - 200-216.
During the House debate on the 2007 farm bill, the amendment, which Kind introduced along with Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and some others, and which garnered the support of numerous environmental, anti-hunger, and religious groups, received only 117 votes for vs. 309 against.
In the end, the House didn't look too kindly on most amendments to the House Agriculture Committee farm bill and approved the new $90-billion, five-year farm bill 231-191. Supporters of the bill, the Farm, Nutrition and Bioenergy Act of 2007, ignored a veto threat from the Bush administration.
“I thought we had a very strong bill,” said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, who faced a last-minute rebellion from Republican members of his committee over a proposal to tax U.S. earnings of foreign corporations to pay for a $4 billion increase in nutrition funding.
“I think that the Democratic Caucus feels good about the bill, and Speaker Pelosi seemed pleased with the outcome. She deserves a lot of credit for the bill. She trusted me and the committee that we knew what were doing and gave us a lot of help to get the law passed.”
Peterson also received help from farm organizations who mounted a massive lobbying effort to defeat the Kind-Flake amendment, the Farm and Risk Management for the 21st Century, after they saw how close it came to passage in 2002.
The legislation, also referred to as FARM 21, would have eliminated the current farm safety net programs of direct and counter-cyclical payments and market loan gains and loan deficiency payments and replaced them with farmer savings accounts and higher payments for conservation and energy programs.
Farm groups bought ads, wrote letters to House members and set up a Web site, www.farmpolicyfacts.org, to push the message that a vote for the Kind-Flake amendment would be a vote to repeal the safety net for family farmers. The campaign helped ensure the amendment received 84 fewer votes than it did in 2002.
Farm lobbyists also became concerned about the House leadership's inclusion of a proposal to raise $7.8 billion by ending a practice that allows foreign-owned companies operating in the United States to shift earnings to countries with lower tax rates. The money will offset increases of $4 billion in food stamps and more than $2 billion in energy funding.
House Republicans, including members of the ag committee who had been defending its farm bill, voted against the committee version after the House Rules Committee allowed the proposal by Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, to be included. The Bush administration also threatened a veto because of what it and Republican members termed a tax increase.
Reps. Mike Conaway, Randy Neugebauer and Mac Thornberry, Republicans from the Texas High Plains issued statements immediately following the passage of the farm bill, explaining their “no” votes on the legislation. (They voted instead for an alternative bill that did not include the provision.)
Democrats seemed happy to be able to cast Republicans in the position of defending what the former called loopholes in the tax laws that allowed foreign-based corporations to essentially pay no U.S. taxes on their earnings.
In a press conference following the vote on July 27, Peterson said Democrats were more interested in helping feed children than in protecting profits of multi-national corporations.
He cited previous trade deals, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he said had been tailored mainly to help big business and seemed to be of little benefit to U.S. agriculture.
Despite the loss of Republican votes, Peterson said he was never concerned the bill would not pass. He felt confident, instead, that the Democratic majority would hold together on the bill.
“Mr. Goodlatte (ranking member Bob of Virginia) was just here, and he was disappointed in the outcome,” said Peterson. “This happens in politics, but Mr. Goodlatte and I are committed to work together. We're prepared to work shoulder-to-shoulder to get the farm bill done this fall.”
Farm groups praised the work of Peterson, Goodlatte and the ag committee in passing a farm bill that they said establishes new benchmarks for reform while retaining a viable safety net for farmers and ranchers.
National Cotton Council leaders were pleased with the defeat of an amendment offered by Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo., that would have “singled out cotton” by lowering the direct payment for the crop to 6 cents per pound (from 6.67 cents) and used the savings to increase enrollments in the Grasslands Reserve Program.
The National Corn Growers Association called passage of the farm bill in the House a major win for farmers. “We believe the House fashioned a bill that provides for a safety net and moves the process forward,” said NCGA President Ken McCauley, a farmer from Kansas.
“Chairman Peterson and the House Agriculture Committee showed leadership when they included a revenue-based counter-cyclical program in the bill. During debate on the House floor, there were many references to the benefits of a revenue-based farm program.”
USA Rice Federation and USA Rice Producers Group leaders were pleased that the bill established a separate $6.50 per hundredweight loan rate applicable to long, medium and short-grain rice. The provision was proposed by USA Rice and sponsored by Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La.
“We should all be aware that this isn't the end of the road,” said Paul Combs, chairman of the Rice Producers Group, noting the House bill now goes to the Senate where Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, has said he has other ideas for the measure.
Among those will be restoration of $4 billion the house ag committee cut out of funding for Harkin's Conservation Security Program. The House bill delays further sign-ups for the program until 2012 and transfers the funds to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
Harkin said on July 24 that he doesn't anticipate the Senate ag committee writing language for its farm bill until after Congress returns from the August recess. Harkin is expected to provide more funding for conservation programs in the Senate version and include payment limit provisions closer to those espoused by fellow Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley.