Subsidy limits in new farm bill are 'in trouble,' Nebraska Rep. Jeff Fortenberry says - Omaha.com
Published Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 1:00 am / Updated at 1:55 am
Subsidy limits in new farm bill are 'in trouble,' Nebraska Rep. Jeff Fortenberry says

WASHINGTON — Advocates for tightening limits on federal farm subsidy payments rejoiced at their victory last year when their proposals were included in both the House and Senate versions of the latest farm bill.

But those hard-fought gains appear to be in danger now as members of a conference committee hammer out the final version of the legislation.

“I'm worried about it. I think it's, sadly, in trouble,” Rep. Jeff Fortenberry told The World-Herald on Tuesday.

The Lincoln Republican successfully pushed for the tighter limits in the House version, while Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, got them included by the Senate.

Both bills would establish a hard cap on farm payments of $250,000 and tighten loopholes on who meets the requirement that subsidy recipients be “actively engaged” in the farm operation.

Farm bill supporters who favor tighter payment limits say stories of wealthy or absentee farmers collecting large payments give the whole program a black eye.

While the limits generally are backed by those in the Midwest, Southern growers tend to have larger operations and say the limits are too restrictive. It's an argument that appears to be gaining ground now in the negotiations among conference committee members, many of whom did not support the limits.

Fortenberry said it appears that even conference committee members who are sympathetic to tighter limits have not championed the provision.

What's clear is that the fight continues.

Grassley has been spotted recently on the House side of the Capitol, working House members in the hallway on the payment limits issue. He told The World-Herald that he has written letters to House leaders including Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., urging them to exert their influence to keep the payment limits in the final version.

Both Grassley and Fortenberry expressed outrage this week at word that the conference committee could roll back or eliminate their language, thereby reversing what was agreed to by majorities on both sides of the Capitol.

Grassley said that with the House and Senate language nearly identical, it should have a “do-not-touch” label on it.

“It should be non-negotiable,” Grassley said.

Fortenberry said the whole affair underscores why Nebraska has a unicameral legislature where there's no such thing as a conference committee. He said the ongoing process on the farm bill is “not in accord with the spirit of the republic.”

Work on a new farm bill has dragged on for many months as lawmakers tangled over a number of hot-button issues, including food stamps, but some think an end could be in sight. The Senate approved $4 billion in cuts to food stamps, while the House opted for about 10 times that amount of cuts. The final version is expected to cut about $8 billion, but those writing it have reason not to release the specifics just yet.

That's because Congress is about to leave for a weeklong recess.

“I think there's a farm bill, I really do,” said Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb. “I think they just don't want to lay it out there for the next couple weeks and have it shot at.”

One consideration for farm bill negotiators is that they could lose some votes if they eliminate the limits altogether from the final version. For example, Grassley said that even though the limits are not the biggest part of the bill, he would not be able to support the legislation if they are removed.

He said it's “ridiculous” to have 10 percent of the nation's farms receiving 70 percent or more of the farm program's benefits.

“When you're cutting food stamps, how would anybody have guts enough to say we ought to keep these loopholes open for rich farmers?” Grassley said.

Contact the writer: Joseph Morton

joe.morton@owh.com    |  

Joe is The World-Herald's Washington, D.C., bureau, covering national political developments that matter most to Midlanders.

Man, 21, shot in ankle while walking near 30th, U Streets
State Department moves to delay Keystone XL pipeline decision
Omahan charged in fatal shooting in Benson neighborhood
Friday's attendance dips at Millard West after bathroom threat
High school slam poets don't just recite verses, 'they leave their hearts beating on the stage'
Crack ring's leaders join others in prison as a result of Operation Purple Haze
High court denies death row appeal of cult leader convicted of murder
Haze in area comes from Kansas, Oklahoma
Man taken into custody in domestic dispute
Omaha judge reprimanded for intervening in peer attorney's DUI case
Intoxicated man with pellet gun climbs billboard's scaffold; is arrested
Police seek public's help in finding an armed man
Saturday forecast opens window for gardening; Easter egg hunts look iffy on Sunday
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
Last day of 2014 Legislature: Praise, passage of a last few bills and more on mountain lions
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
A voice of experience: Ex-gang member helps lead fight against Omaha violence
Church is pressing its case for old Temple Israel site
OPPD board holding public forum, open house May 7
The thrill of the skill: Omaha hosts statewide contest for students of the trades
A recap of what got done — and what didn't — in the 2014 legislative session
When judge asks, Nikko Jenkins says ‘I killed them’
Nancy's Almanac, April 17, 2014: Trees save money
'The war is not over,' Chambers says, but legislative session about is
PAC funded by Senate candidate Ben Sasse's great-uncle releases Shane Osborn attack ad
< >
COLUMNISTS »
Breaking Brad: Stuck in a claw machine? You get no Easter candy
I know of one kid in Lincoln who will be receiving a lump of coal from the Easter Bunny, just as soon as he's extricated from that bowling alley claw machine.
Breaking Brad: Mountain lion season's over, but the bunny's fair game!
Thursday was the last day of a Nebraska Legislature session. Before leaving town, legislators passed a bill to hold a lottery to hunt the Easter Bunny.
Breaking Brad: At least my kid never got stuck inside a claw machine
We need a new rule in Lincoln. If your kid is discovered inside the claw machine at a bowling alley, you are forever barred from being nominated for "Mother of the Year."
Breaking Brad: How many MECA board members can we put in a luxury suite?
As a stunt at the Blue Man Group show, MECA board members are going to see how many people they can stuff into one luxury suite.
Kelly: Creighton's McDermotts put good faces on an Omaha tradition
A comical roast Wednesday night in Omaha brought fans of Creighton basketball laughter by the bucketful. This time it was McJokes, not McBuckets, that entertained the Bluejay crowd.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
The Jaipur in Rockbrook Village
Half Off Fine Indian Cuisine & Drinks! $15 for Dinner, or $7 for Lunch
Buy Now
PHOTO GALLERIES »
< >
SPOTLIGHT »
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
WORLD-HERALD ALERTS »
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »