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.

Attorney: Man accused of trying to open plane's door needs psychiatric evaluation
49-year-old sentenced to 40-50 years for attempted sex assault of child
Brothers looking for pot sentenced for violent home invasion
At Boys Town panel, experts stress it's never too early to educate children
Kelly: New $24M UNO center embodies spirit of newlywed crash victim
Gov. Heineman calls 2014 a 'very good year for Nebraska taxpayers'
Ex-Iowan behind landmark free speech case recounts story in Bellevue
Arrest made in teen's shooting death at Benson's Gallagher Park
Section of 50th Street to close for bridge demolition
Nikko Jenkins found guilty of 4 murders
Rather than doing $250K in repairs, owner who lives in lot behind 94-year-old house in Dundee razes it
Plans for new $16M YMCA in Council Bluffs at 'critical juncture'
Woodmen request would take nearly $40M in valuation from tax rolls
With fixed AC, Fort Calhoun's nuclear station ends brief shutdown
Windy day could make driving difficult on east-west roads
Richard Brown steps down as Charles Drew Health Center CEO
High school slam poets don't just recite verses, 'they leave their hearts beating on the stage'
OPD safety expo set for April 26
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
Crew working to disassemble International Nutrition plant
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
18-year-old arrested in stolen-car case
U.S. Senate candidate Bart McLeay trails his 3 GOP rivals in fundraising
86-year-old Holdrege man killed in weekend collision
New police gang intervention specialist knows firsthand about getting involved with wrong crowd
< >
Kelly: New $24M UNO center embodies spirit of newlywed crash victim
Jessica Lutton Bedient was killed by a drunken driver at age 26 in 2010. Thursday, the widowed husband and other family members will gather with others at the University of Nebraska at Omaha to dedicate a permanent memorial to Jessica.
Breaking Brad: How much would you pay for a corn dog?
The Arizona Diamondbacks have a new concession item: a $25 corn dog. For that kind of money, it should be stuffed with Bitcoin.
Breaking Brad: Pothole repair crew gets stuck in a pothole
In East Lansing, Mich., a pothole repair crew got stuck inside a pothole. How did this not happen in Omaha?
Breaking Brad: What do the moon, Colorado senators have in common?
How about that "blood red" moon Monday? It was as red as the eyes of a Colorado legislator.
Breaking Brad: Hey, Republicans, are you ready to be audited?
A quick list of audit red flags: 3) You fail to sign your return. 2) You fail to report income. 1) You are a registered Republican.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
Shoreline Golf Club
$40 for 2 Players, 18 Holes of Golf with Cart ($85 Value)
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 »