Passing the Farm Bill

October 9, 2001

After weeks of focusing on terrorism, a war effort and a warm and fuzzy

bipartisan legislative process, we just might see something happen on the

farm front.

Chairman of the House Ag Committee Larry Combest is making a big push to pass a farm bill through the House. But that's only half of the process. The Senate hasn't even written a bill. But you can bet that if we get a House bill, the heat will be on the Chairman of the Senate Ag Committee, Senator Harkin, to pass a Senate bill. Failure on his part would leave him politically vulnerable.

And here's why: the budget for farm policy written last spring provide for a lot of money for farm programs over 10 years. The budget situation will be dramatically different next year. With a faltering economy and heavy new spending on the military and anti-terrorism, there won't be as much left for agriculture. So Combest wants to get it done now before the budget is cut. And, I promise, Senator Harking (although late to the party) won't want to be blamed next year (an election year) for leaving billions of dollars of farm assistance on the table.

Now Secretary Veneman came forward with the Administration farm program principles -market oriented, don't break the budget, meet World Trade Organization rules. Does the Combest bill meet these specifications? Very questionable. But my view: don't look for the Bush Administration to be too negative toward farm spending. Too many rural members of Congress rely on ag support for re-election. Republicans already lost the Senate to the Democrats. The President doesn't want to lose the House. Furthermore, the President wants the Congress to pass trade promotion authority. He wants to keep the rural members on his side. Farmers are in a powerful bargaining position -- for now.