June 11, 2008

Russ Feingold's Office on the Farm Bill & Special Interest Legislation from Herb Kohl

via email, in response to my message:

Dear Mr. Zellmer,

Thank you for contacting me to share you concerns about the Farm Bill. I appreciate hearing from you. While I was disappointed by the lack of reform to the commodity programs in the Farm Bill, significant improvements were made in other areas of the bill to assist small and medium farmers.

As you may know, the House approved the final version of the Farm Bill on May 14, 2008, by a vote of 318-106. The Senate passed it the following day by a vote of 85-15. The President vetoed the Farm Bill on May 21, 2008. The House voted to override the veto the same day, and the Senate the next day. I was pleased to support both the Farm Bill itself and the motion to override the President's veto. The bill became law on May 22, 2008, although an enrollment error meant that the Trade and Food Aid Title was not included. The House and Senate have passed a new version of the bill to correct the error.

For instance, the bill restores the payment rate for the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program and, for the first time, factors in the cost of production for farmers. MILC is vital for Wisconsin's dairy farmers, and is an extremely responsible program as it kicks in when times are tough and covers only a certain amount of milk. Thus, it targets small and medium farms rather than subsidizing the expansion of large farms.

The bill also makes significant improvements to nutrition programs, including Food Stamps and the Emergency Food Assistance Program, totaling more than $10 billion over the five-year life of the bill and accounting for about three-quarters of total spending in the bill. Other positive provisions of the Farm Bill include a new livestock title, which contains important competition provisions and over $4 billion for agriculture conservation programs. The bill also provides more funding for smaller-scale programs such as the Community Food Program, Value-Added Producer Grants, and the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program.

I was also able to have several amendments accepted to the bill on a range of issues important to Wisconsin farmers. I was particularly pleased to have an amendment accepted to strengthen the office for small farmers at USDA.

I share the disappointment I have heard from some Wisconsinites that the reforms in the Farm Bill don't go far enough. I supported a number of amendments to reform the bill when the Senate considered it in December 2007, including an amendment offered by Senators Byron Dorgan (ND) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) to cap subsidy payments to the largest producers. I also filed an amendment with Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) to trim direct payments. In addition, I supported and cosponsored an amendment offered by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and John Sununu (R-NH) to trim government subsidies to crop insurance companies, and voted in favor of an amendment offered by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) that would have prohibited farm support payments to wealthy individuals. I was disappointed that these amendments failed. The final bill does reform the commodity support programs by modestly trimming direct payments and reducing the adjusted gross income eligibility cap, but more reforms are needed.

To read my full statement on the bill, please visit here. While we may not always agree, I look forward to hearing from you in the future.

Speaking of our politicians, Bruce Murphy notes some special interest assistance from Senator Kohl and link to this New York Times article:
Senator Herb Kohl, Democrat of Wisconsin, persuaded the Appropriations Committee and the full Senate to accept legislative language benefiting Aurora BayCare Medical Center in Green Bay.

The hospital’s lobbyists include Theodore H. Bornstein, a former chief of staff for Mr. Kohl, and Bill Broydrick, whose Web site quotes a description of him as “the state’s No. 1 super lobbyist.”

The Kohl provision would allow the Green Bay hospital to expand by building a new cardiac catheterization laboratory.

The issue often puts lawmakers in the awkward position of having to choose between doctors and hospitals.

Critics say that when doctors have a financial stake in a hospital, they have an incentive to send patients there because they not only receive professional fees for their services, but also can share in hospital profits and see the value of their investment increase. Such arrangements can lead to greater use of hospital services and higher costs for Medicare and other insurers, say the critics, including many in Congress.

My email to Senator Kohl:
Dear Senator Kohl:

I hope this message finds you well.

I am writing to express my disappointment at your support for the "Aurora BayCare Medical Center in Green Bay" carve out in what I believe to be upcoming health care legislation.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/08/washington/08hospital.html

Such narrow special interest treatment is at odds with your "Nobody's Senator but Yours" mantra.

These carve outs simply increase costs for middle America.

I am disappointed.

Best wishes,

Jim Zellmer

Posted by jez at June 11, 2008 1:19 PM | Subscribe to this site via RSS:
Posted to Agriculture | Politics | Taxes