INTERVIEW: Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.)

May 18, 2012 05:52 AM

via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

Farm bill debate timing | Equitable farm bill | Target prices

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.

Moving a farm bill through the Senate and house soon is critical because of agriculture's importance to so many states, including the South, but the final version "must not be a one size fits all" but must be equitable for all regions of the country, according to an interview with Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.).

Timing of the Senate farm bill debate is still not official, with some sources signaling a June 5 startup. Boozman said, "I have not been notified, but in the last few days I've heard early June is a real possibility."

The Senate farm bill to date, Boozman said, "is not equitable" for rice and peanuts. "Look at the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis and it shows the significant cut in the safety net for rice versus some other commodities.

Boozman said he would be working with Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and other senators representing southern agriculture to include price protection in the final farm bill. "But it will be impossible to vote for the farm bill if it isn't equitable for the southern region and crops," he said. The Senate bill does not include target prices.

Getting a farm bill completed "is always difficult, but agriculture should be united in its efforts," Boozman stressed, again emphasizing the process should not be a "one size fits all" approach. "We need a united front in agriculture and we should stick together because it is going to be difficult to get the votes to get this done in these hard economic times," he added. "For example, some senators already do not like the cuts made in the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance) program."

Target price opponents. Asked to respond to some reports that Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), ranking member on the Senate Agriculture Committee, actively worked against including target prices in the Senate farm bill package, Boozman said, "I respect Sen. Roberts and Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and have worked with both of them. Roberts doesn't seem to be a real fan of target prices." (Note: The 1996 Farm Bill, which was largely pushed by then House Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, eliminated target prices. Target prices returned with the 2002 Farm Bill.)

Told that some target price opponents say the difficulty is in how they are determined, Boozman said, "The same can be said for some of the assumptions used to determine how the Ag Risk Coverage (ARC) program works...such as how many years should be used in determining the Olympic average and the acreage percentage for payments."

Asked to respond to sources who informed that a farm bill conference would be chaired by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), Boozman said, "That would be an advantage" because the House farm bill "will be much more equitable for all crops and regions of the country." Boozman said Lucas and other House Ag Committee members like Reps. Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas) and Mike Conaway Conaway (R-Texas) "all support a fair farm bill for all regions of the country."

Boozman stressed that he has "a lot of faith in Stabenow" and noted "she has consistently said some issues would be worked out" in conference relative to those raised about the Senate farm bill approach to date. "Stabenow showed in last fall's farm bill draft (that was reportedly going to be linked to the Super Committee's failed attempt at debt reduction) that she would support an equitable farm bill," Boozman pointed out.

House floor farm bill debate timing. Told that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has reportedly told some groups and others that he does not want to have a farm bill debate on the House floor prior to the Nov. 6 elections because it would pit Republican versus Republican, Boozman said, "We have to go forward. If the debate comes before or after the elections, the issues are the same. With agriculture so important to so many regions of the country, the farmer safety net and other key features should be known as soon as possible."

Regarding a possible lame-duck session consideration of the farm bill, Boozman said, "There are so many possible issues that could be dealt with after the elections. Let's get the farm bill done now."


NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.






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