Subsidy limits in new farm bill are 'in trouble,' Nebraska Rep. Jeff Fortenberry says -
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 is The World-Herald's Washington, D.C., bureau, covering national political developments that matter most to Midlanders.

Agreement reached to end dog racing at Bluffs Run at end of 2015
Beau McCoy calls Pete Ricketts a 'convenient conservative' for immigration stance
Kelly: Huskers' glory days of '80s live on — on the small screen and on stage
Police ID body found near 36th, Seward Streets
World champion Crawford's promoter working to have title defense at CenturyLink Center
Hail, strong winds, heavy rain hit south-central Nebraska
Video: Stothert says Crossroads project is 'full speed ahead,' but she won't support bond issue
'Fairly old' human skull found in Mills County
Kelly: Started at a dining room table, Home Instead thriving at 20 with $1B in annual revenue
Omaha crash victim, 19, had touched many lives
Firefighters take on 'fully engulfed barn fire'
Council Bluffs school board approves new district headquarters
Officials announce effort to lure more veterans to Nebraska
SB 132nd Street lane closed
Shane Osborn grabs several endorsements
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
Omaha area may get 1 inch of rain tonight
Gov. Heineman vetoes bill to ease restrictions on nurse practitioners
Nebraska banking and finance director to retire
Waitress who served alcohol to teen before fatal crash gets jail time, probation
Owners of exotic dance bar deny prostitution allegations
More Nebraskans are electing to vote early
A day after Ricketts endorsement, Ted Cruz backs Sasse for Senate
Some city streets remain closed
< >
Kelly: Huskers' glory days of '80s live on — on the small screen and on stage
The 1984 NFL draft was unusual for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, and these days it's remembered in the name of a rock band, the 1984 Draft. Tonight, the band will be featured nationally on the NFL Network in a documentary about — what else? — the 1984 draft.
Kelly: Started at a dining room table, Home Instead thriving at 20 with $1B in annual revenue
The idea that Paul Hogan had studied and then hatched at his mother's table was that older people, rather than moving in with relatives or to an assisted-living center, would much prefer to stay home instead.
Breaking Brad: Nebraska GOP candidates unified against naked squirrels
Some of these Nebraska campaigns are tilting pretty far right. At a recent forum, there was a consensus that we need to ban public dancing and clothe naked squirrels in public parks.
Breaking Brad: Inside the mind of a 99-year-old real estate agent
I saw an article about a 99-year-old real estate agent who's still working. “This house is extra special. It has indoor toilets!”
Breaking Brad: Into the claw machine! Florida kid follows Lincoln kid's lead
In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a child climbed inside a claw machine. Hey, Florida kid: Nobody likes a copycat.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
7M Grill
Half Off Delicious Comfort Fusion Food & Drinks!
Buy Now
< >
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.
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for'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 »