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Iowa Sen. Grassley offers payment limit amendment -- again

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•Sen. Grassley has introduced legislation putting a hard cap on farm program payments. •This time the cap may be taking on new meaning as House members prepare to make major cuts in farm programs.

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley has introduced a new bill that would place a “hard cap” of $250,000 on farm program payments. It’s not the first time for the legislation; Grassley has introduced similar measures every year since 2000.

The irony is that farmers might soon be glad to still be able to receive $250,000 in farm program payments if members of the House Appropriations Committee and like-minded colleagues in the House get their way.

The House Appropriations Committee recently reported a bill that would provide $125.5 billion in discretionary and mandatory funding for agriculture and related agencies for Fiscal Year 2012. The spending measure is $7 billion less than the President’s budget request and includes across-the-board cuts.

That may only be the beginning based on public comments by Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, who has proposed making $48 billion in cuts, primarily in crop insurance and direct farm program payments over the next few years.

The Appropriations Committee proposal for FY2012 has drawn criticism from a number of farm organizations who basically have said the committee has no business trying to write farm programs through the budget-writing process.

One set of amendments that limits farm program payments to those with incomes of less than $250,000 and cancels funding for implementing the U.S.-Brazil agreement in the WTO case Brazil brought against the U.S. cotton program has draw the particular ire of Southern producers like the Delta Council’s Dan Branton.

“What the House Appropriations Subcommittee adopted is equivalent to telling a Mid-South farmer that if you can afford to pay for a grain or cotton harvester, you should not be eligible for the safety net provisions in our current farm program,” said Branton, who serves as chairman of the Delta Council Farm Policy Committee.

“After years and years of carrying debt forward from previous crops, we are finally selling our crops for a profit, and suddenly, at a time when federal outlays on agriculture have been lower than any time during my farming career, the committee that is supposed to be our friend is now sending us the message that when a farmer gets in a “pay as you go” position, he’s too prosperous to be eligible for the risk management benefits of a farm program.”

Grassley’s announcement that he was filing a new payment limit bill repeated most of the claims he’s made over the years.

“The goal is to preserve the safety net that is so important for agriculture and, in turn, the abundant and affordable food supply the rest of us depend on,” he said. “Without a reliable food supply, nothing less than social cohesion and survival is put in jeopardy.”

The Iowa Republican has maintained through the year that the stricter payment limit was needed to preserve farm programs. Those warnings may finally be coming true, but perhaps not in the way Grassley, who claims to be the only working farmer in the Senate, anticipated. 

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