Lugar, the principle author of the much-maligned Freedom to Farm legislation Congress passed in 1996, made his comments in an “Op Ed” article entitled “The Farm Bill Charade” in the Jan. 21 New York Times.
In the article, Lugar, who owns a 604-acre hog and soybean farm in his home state of Indiana, conceded that his own farm bill proposal, which is based on a crop revenue insurance scheme, was defeated 70-30 before the Senate adjourned for the holidays in December.
Lugar criticized the Daschle-Harkin bill, named for Senators Tom Daschle, the majority leader in the Senate, and Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, which reported the bill out in November.
“Passage of the Daschle-Harkin bill would halt attempts ro reform America’s distorted agricultural policy,” he said in the Times’ article. “It would, indeed, commit still more money to that policy, adding $73.5 billion, over 10 years, on top of the $98.5 billion that would go to maintaining current programs.
“Such huge increases are out of line at a time when the United States is fighting a sluggish economy and a life-or-death war on terrorism.”
Lugar, the chairman of the Senate Ag Committee until Democrats gained control of the Senate last summer, charged that “ineffective agricultural policy” has led to overproduction of many heavily supported crops.
“The government has provided essentially a guaranteed income to producers of these crops,” he noted. “So those farmers keep producing more crops than the market wants, which keeps the price low — so low that these farmers continually ask the government for more subsidies, which they get.”
Nowhere in the article does Lugar mention that he was the principal author of the Federal Agricultural Improvement and Reform Act of 1996 or Freedom to Farm.
“In 1995, Sen. Lugar was holding forth in major media outlets, proudly boasting of the farm bill that he and the grain trade foisted on Rural America,” said Harvey Joe Sanner, a farmer from Des Arc, Ark.
“That legislation, dubbed Freedom to Farm, has been categorized as a dismal failure by all honest assessments. In essence, a new farm bill is needed to clean up the mess that Sen. Lugar’s bill created.”
In the Times article, Lugar said current American agricultural policy “distorts food prices, frustrates innovation, limits product diversity and subsidizes a select group of farmers at enormous public cost. The majority of payments in most states go to the top tenth of farmers.”
Lugar outlined the basics of his farm bill proposal, noting that it would provide an alternative safety net for all crop and livestock producers: “Each farmer would receive a federal payment equaling 6 percent of total farm receipts. This would enable the farmer to pay the premium for whole-farm income insurance that would provide assurance of 80 percent of an average income taken over a five-year period.”
The five years would encompass the most recent period, which saw farmer incomes drop to some of their lowest levels in history.
Senate leaders have indicated that they will bring up the Daschle-Harkin bill shortly after the Senate returns with an objective of passing it and sending it to a House-Senate conference committee that will attempt to reconcile it with the House bill.
Although Democrats tried to invoke cloture on the bill to bring it to a vote before Christmas, they were unable to muster the 60 votes needed to cut off debate. They are not expected to be any more successful when the legislation is brought up again.
Several senators have already indicated they will introduce a number of amendments, including one that would include new payment limits, when the legislation comes to the Senate floor.
Farm organizations have said a new farm bill is needed quickly to enable farmers to complete financing arrangements for their 2002 crops.
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