June 19, 2008

Tammy Baldwin's Office on the Farm Bill

Dear Mr. Zellmer:

Thank you for contacting me about the 2007 Farm Bill (the Farm, Nutrition, and Bioenergy Act, H.R. 2419). It is good to hear from you, and I apologize for the delay in my response.

As you know, the U.S. House of Representatives recently considered the 2007 Farm Bill. The Farm Bill is a comprehensive piece of legislation which touches on a number of agriculture-related issues, including commodity price support programs, nutrition programs, alternative energy, and rural development.

After a considerable amount of deliberation in a conference committee, the House and Senate each passed a conference report that represented the resulting policy compromises. You may be interested to know that I joined my colleagues in the House of Representatives to pass this conference report by a vote of 318 to 106.

While I believe that the U.S. House of Representatives should have taken this opportunity to implement expansive agricultural policy reforms, I supported the conference report because it does contain some noteworthy improvements in the Farm Bill programs. The alternatives to reauthorizing the Farm Bill this year were to extend the previous version of the farm bill or to revert to regulations dating to the 1940s. In my view, neither of these alternatives are desirable or acceptable.

The aspects of the conference report that I strongly support include expanding and updating the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program, and investments in nutrition programs that help 38 million American families afford healthy food. For the first time, the MILC program will include the cost of feeding dairy cows as a factor for triggering program payments, a relief for Wisconsin dairy farmers who face increasing costs of inputs. The nutrition title includes an additional $10 billion to expand food stamp eligibility and increase the minimum weekly benefit, as increase funding for many worthy programs such as food banks, food pantries, soup kitchens, and schools providing healthy snacks to students.

I am pleased that the legislation makes progress in lowering the income limits for wealthy farmers to qualify for federal farm payments, although I believe these limits should be made even lower to ensure payments go to those farmers who need the aid the most. Under the conference report, individuals making over $500,000 in non-farm income, or $750,000 in farm income, would become ineligible for federal payments. This report ceases Conservation payment eligibility at incomes of $1 million. In contrast, the 2002 Farm Bill discontinued federal farm payments to individuals earning over $2.5 million.

The conference report also makes progress on several issues I have long-supported. These reforms include levying the Dairy Import Assessment against companies that import dairy products into the U.S., and implementing mandatory Country Of Origin Labeling (COOL) for all meats. I am also very pleased it contains a farm flexibility pilot program that will allow farmers receiving direct payments for commodities to opt out of these payments on a year-by-year basis, and grow fruits and vegetables for processing. This program is especially meaningful for the Upper Midwest, and I am hopeful the program will prove successful and be expanded in coming agricultural authorizations. Additionally, the 2007 Farm Bill conference report:

Increases the Wetland Reserve Program's (WRP) enrollment ceiling to more than 3 million acres;

Reestablishes the WRP's budget authority at $1.3 billion over five years, through 2012;

Authorizes the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to enroll 32 million acres from 2010-2012, a 7.2 million acre decrease from the 2002 Farm Bill;

Provides a one-time $84 million mandatory funding for the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program during fiscal year 2009, $24 million over previous discretionary funding levels;

Rejects Farm Credit Service proposals to expand their lending authority and deviate from their stated mission;

Directs the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to review studies on the use of random source animals for research, and consider the recommendations in those studies to end the black market trade in stolen pets;

Provides for penalties for animal fighting ventures, increases penalties for violations of the Animal Welfare Act, and prohibits the importation of puppies under the age of 6 months.

You may be interested to know that shortly after the House vote the Senate also passed the conference report by a vote of 81 to 15. I am disappointed that the President vetoed this bill, but I am pleased that both the House and Senate voted to override the President's veto. However, due to an administrative error the bill vetoed by the President and passed into law by a veto override was only part of the conference report Farm Bill. As a result, I joined my colleagues in the House in passing the same version of the Farm Bill as new legislation. This identical copy is still pending in the U.S. Senate, and will likely be passed. It is my hope that in light of the veto override the President will acknowledge widespread support for this Farm Bill and sign it instead of forcing a second veto override vote.

In a country as vast as ours, crafting legislation that addresses vastly different regional and industrial priorities is painstaking, and often contentious, work. I believe the 2007 Farm Bill conference report does represent some positive changes in our agricultural policy, and it is my hope that a consensus will exist for far greater reforms in the future. Please know that I will keep your thoughts in mind as the U.S. Congress continues to consider the 2007 Farm Bill.

Again, thank you for sharing your views. Your opinion matters to me. If I can be of service to you in any other way, please do not hesitate to let me know. As a security precaution, all mail sent to Congress is first irradiated. This process causes significant delays. To ensure the fastest response, I encourage all constituents who have access to the internet to contact me through my website at http://tammybaldwin.house.gov.


Sincerely,

Tammy Baldwin
Member of Congress

P.S. I regularly send out email updates on federal issues and opportunities. These reports also include regular surveys through which you can express your opinion. If you would like to receive these email updates, you may sign up by visiting my website at: http://www.house.gov/formbaldwin/IMA/get_address_news.htm

Posted by jez at June 19, 2008 9:30 PM | Subscribe to this site via RSS:
Posted to Agriculture | Politics | Taxes