Government

Farm bill clears U.S. Senate agriculture panel

Grassley, wanting more safeguards, casts lone 'no' vote

(FILE PHOTO) U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) (from left) answers a question as U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) looks on during a press availability after a breakfast with the Linn Eagles at the Cedar Rapids Country Club in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Oct. 24, 2016. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
(FILE PHOTO) U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) (from left) answers a question as U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) looks on during a press availability after a breakfast with the Linn Eagles at the Cedar Rapids Country Club in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Oct. 24, 2016. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Iowa’s U.S. senators, both Republicans, went separate ways when the Agriculture Committee voted Wednesday to approve the 2018 farm bill.

“Timely passage” by the committee will keep the farm bill on track for action by the House and Senate this year, Sen. Joni Ernst said. She welcomed inclusion of conservation and commodity programs that were incorporated into the legislation.

However, Sen. Chuck Grassley cast the lone “no” vote because it didn’t limit farm safety net payments to nonfarmers who “game the system and take resources away from real, working farmers.”

“Farm programs should provide temporary, limited assistance to farmers when there’s a natural disaster or an unforeseeable, sudden change in market prices,” Grassley said.

He highlighted his concerns earlier this week in a speech to the Heritage Foundation, saying 10 percent of farmers get more than 70 percent of the payments from the farm bill.

Also, based on Government Accountability Office reports, taxpayers paid out $259 million to nonfarmers through loopholes in the current farm bill, and the 50 largest subsidy recipient entities in 2015 collectively used 193 extra managers to collect additional farm subsidies.

Although his reforms were not included, Grassley, who has advocated for the limits for more than a decade, isn’t going to give up.

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“I intend to offer an amendment on the Senate floor to include common-sense payment limits,” he said. “A similar amendment passed the Senate in the last farm bill and should pass again.”

Ernst highlighted legislation she offered, including reforms to conservation and commodity programs, that was incorporated into the farm bill. Among them was language to revise and strengthen the Conservation Reserve Program, the Conservation Stewardship Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program and regional Conservation Partnership Program to encourage rural and urban partnerships for conservation, and another to provide more mental health resources to the agricultural community.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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