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Senate fails to address farm reform

Recently, The Forum published an editorial regarding the ongoing negotiations over the farm bill. It was suggested that I take an active role in persuading the president to accept the Senate's farm bill proposal, despite the fact that it could po...

Recently, The Forum published an editorial regarding the ongoing negotiations over the farm bill. It was suggested that I take an active role in persuading the president to accept the Senate's farm bill proposal, despite the fact that it could potentially spend up to

$22 billion in new money to expand government programs while raising taxes on the American people. What The Forum should be doing instead is urging me to support a measure that reflects the wishes of the American people - not one that was devised by special interests and behind closed doors in Washington.

Over a year ago, the administration offered a farm bill proposal built from the opinions and reflections of farmers and ranchers throughout America, including North Dakota. The United States Department of Agriculture conducted more than 50 listening tours all throughout the nation, asking questions and building much of our proposal off the insights and concerns of farmers. What we heard was clear - our farm programs need reform while continuing to provide the safety net for America's farmers. And raising taxes to pay for expanded government is not embraced across rural America - it is an effort born out of Washington, and it does not belong in the farm bill.

The Senate version does not lower costs through needed farm reforms - instead, it simply spends more of the taxpayers' money. Americans have made it clear that they do not want their taxes raised to support farm payments to wealthy landowners and corporate interests. Farm spending should be focused on those who need it most. The need for this reform is obvious, and yet the Senate refuses to address this glaring flaw in our system.

The president listened to farmers in putting his legislative package together, and that resulted in proposed legislation that was reform-minded and less costly to the American taxpayers while providing the safety net farmers are seeking.

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There is much talk in Congress about the need to be fiscally disciplined, yet the Senate's farm bill goes way over baseline. Considering the fact that the farm economy is booming, this massive spending package is incomprehensible. It amazes me that the very people who oppose tax cuts for

high-income earners are the same people who fight to protect farm payments for Manhattan millionaires who own some farm land.

Our president would like to sign a good farm bill this year, and it is imperative Congress recognize that he is speaking from a platform generated from what he heard in the listening sessions. The result of not coming up with positive new legislation is that we extend the current bill, which means that important topics such as energy, increased costs of nutrition, trade balance, specialty crops and ethanol will not be addressed.

The Forum asks that I influence the president to support a Senate proposal that I believe does not meet the wishes of the American people. Instead, I would suggest that perhaps The Forum call on Congress to come up with a bill that provides reform and addresses the issues pertinent to our farmers, instead of spending more money and ignoring the obvious calls for reform.

Schafer, a former two-term North Dakota governor, is U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

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