Baucus has high hopes for farm bill

2013-10-25T23:58:00Z 2014-02-24T16:59:13Z Baucus has high hopes for farm billBy TOM LUTEY The Billings Gazette
October 25, 2013 11:58 pm  • 

BOZEMAN — Americans’ disgust with a government that accomplishes little is improving the odds of a farm bill passing this year, U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said Friday.

Speaking during an economic conference at Montana State University, Baucus said lawmakers, like the citizenry, want to see progress on the major issues facing Congress after grinding to a federal government shutdown. Passing a farm bill, after three failed attempts since 2011, would be a good starting point, he said.

“The prospects for a good, solid farm bill are quite good because people back there are fed up about all the goings on the last couple weeks,” Baucus said. “They don’t like it either. They’re fed up with it and they’re going to go overboard to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Baucus is one of the Senate conferees who will meet next week with House lawmakers to reconcile the differences between the farm bill versions passed by each chamber. This is Baucus’ sixth farm bill. The $500 billion measure has, in the past, set spending for nutrition, agriculture, forestry and conservation programs for five years at a time.

However, this time farm bill talks are different. House Republicans removed nutrition subsidies from the chamber’s farm bill after infighting over cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, thwarted the farm bill’s passage in June. House leaders removed food programs for the poor, elderly and disabled from the bill and passed it on a second try in July on a partisan vote. Nutrition programs were then voted on separately in September, a move Baucus said would jeopardize farm programs in the long term.

“If SNAP is separated from the commodity title of the farm bill, if they’re separated, as sure as I’m standing here I’ll tell you the commodities part of the farm bill will start dying on the vine,” Baucus said.

Earlier in the conference, economist Vincent Smith told the audience of about 180 that House Republicans had tweaked the rules so their conferees could negotiate funding for nutrition programs, despite the absence of a nutrition title in the House farm bill. Senate and House cuts to SNAP differ significantly. House Republicans in September rallied around nutrition subsidy cuts of $40 billion over 10 years and didn’t receive a single Democratic vote. A bipartisan farm bill passed by the Democrat-lead Senate in June cut nutrition subsidies by $4 billion over the next decade.

Baucus said the commodities title needs to include permanent programs for managing livestock disaster, as well as a loss-limiting insurance program to protect farmers from volatile weather and price swings.

Livestock disasters in the 2008 farm bill were not permanent and fell off the books once the farm bill expired in September 2012. The expired livestock indemnity program would have covered 75 percent of the value of the tens of thousands of South Dakota cattle lost to an early blizzard Oct. 4.

Baucus received the Friend of Montana State University College of Agriculture and Montana Experiment Station award.

The senator is not seeking re-election and will leave office at the end of 2014. He said he will spend the next year working to expand trade for Montana products in the Pacific, by lowering trade barriers and advancing the multinational the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

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