Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 21, 2002
By JAINE TREADWELL
Southeastern lawmakers were "taken a-back" Friday over a proposal by Senate Democrats to "gut" guarantees for peanut farmers to solve a funding problem that has stalled the farm bill.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Mobile, said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle’s proposal over the farm bill was "bad news" and had taken everyone a back.
"He is pushing for a $600 million reduction in the peanut program and pushing for increased support for upper Mid-Western farmers from his area of the country," Sessions said, by telephone Friday. "We think it’s a very bad deal."
Sessions predicted the Daschle deal will delay a final vote on the farm bill and peanut farmers would get a raw deal.
Sessions said when farmers apply for loans, they must tell bankers whether they will be operating under the old quota system or the new program. Without a new farm bill, the quota system would remain in effect.
A new farm bill is expected to phase out the quota system over five years and modestly compensate owners who stand to lose money. Farmers would be guaranteed a smaller price floor – $400 a ton under the Senate version of the farm bill, but only $350 a ton under the new Senate Democratic plan.
The $600 million reduction in the peanut program would be "devastating"to the producers.
"Congress must work together in good faith," Sessions said." Farmers need to make plans for the future. Not knowing the farm policies is a disturbing thing for them. Congress owes it to our farmers to produce a bill.
We are facing more delays, but we are not giving up."
Sessions said an interesting point about Daschle’s proposal is that all farm groups are in strong opposition to his tactics – not just peanut and cotton producers.
"Wheat and corn commodities are in favor of the House version of the bill," Sessions said. "They view it as the best bill. Soybeans are the only one for it."
Sessions called the situation Friday "dicy" and said it is his view that the conference committee cannot accept Daschle’s proposal.
"Unless Daschle and the Senate Democrats back off, it means future delays," he said. "Daschle came in and upset the apple cart. He came in with a different view and the Senate Democrats stuck with him. We’ve got a mess."
"We’ve got to get this thing done. There’s too much of a shift from the South to the Mid-West. The encouraging factor is that other farm groups have rejected Daschle’s proposal."
Sessions said he has talked with Rep. Terry Everett, R-Ala., who agrees the farm bill is a battle that probably needs to be taken public.
"We need a grassroots movement to rise up and change the momentum here," Sessions said.
Jerry Newby, president of the Alabama Farmers Federation said political grandstanding by Senate Democratic leaders has eroded negotiations between farm bill conferees, adding to the frustration for farmers.
He said the latest Senate offer is a step backwards because it takes money previously allocated for Southern crops such as cotton and peanuts and redirects that money to crops favored by Midwestern producers.
"We call up Senate conferees to begin genuine negotiations on the bill with the intent on passing a fair and equitable farm bill now," Newby said.