Seeking A Pro-Ag Bill
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) says he plans to incorporate into the Senate climate change bill all the farm-friendly provisions that House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) put into the House-passed bill and add even more benefits for agriculture. But Harkin also said he does not expect the Senate to take up the bill on the floor until late fall and, if the pace of health care legislation is slow, he does not expect the Senate to consider the climate change bill on the floor until next year.
In a speech to the National Council of Farmer Co-operatives, Harkin said, "I think Chairman Peterson did one heck of a great job. I plan to incorporate all of what he did in the House and more." Peterson "could only do so much," Harkin said, adding that he believes he can add "more allocations and allowances" because every senator has farm and rural constituents.
In an interview afterward, Harkin said he does not know whether the Senate Agriculture Committee will mark up the climate change bill or whether Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) will "blend" the provisions from other committees into the bill. But Harkin added that he is determined that the provisions he wants in the bill will be incorporated before the bill goes to the floor. "I don’t want to offer an amendment," he said.
Harkin said he expected questions about procedure on the bill to be ironed out at a recent meeting called by Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) at which committee chairmen and other Senators with concerns about the climate change bill were expected to present their views.
Although Reid has said he expects committee consideration of the bill to be finished by Sept. 18, Harkin said he does not believe that the Senate will take up the bill until November or December and that "it could slip until next spring." Harkin added in the interview that "there will be the big push" to finish the climate change bill before the U.N. climate change conference in Copenhagen Dec. 7-18 at which countries will try to reach agreement on limiting negative human effects on the climate. But Harkin said the Obama administration may be able to take only a "general outline" to the conference. Health care reform is still the No. 1 priority, Harkin said, adding, "I already see slippage" in the health care calendar. If the full Senate does not pass a health care bill by the end of July, "we won’t get climate change done in December," Harkin said.
The National Council of Farm Co-operatives did not endorse the House-passed bill due to concerns that the bill will raise farm production costs. Bob Looney, a vice president of CHS, a St. Paul, MN-based company owned by co-ops, raised the cost issue July 8 and Harkin assured the co-op leaders that farmers will have a chance to express their concerns about the bill at a July 22 Senate Agriculture Committee hearing. But on the issue of increased fertilizer costs, Harkin said the climate change bill would not have as much of an impact on the cost of natural gas, which is used to make fertilizer, as on coal and oil. Asked how the government is going to pay for the health care and climate change bills, Harkin also told the farm co-op leaders that he is not as concerned about the government going into debt to build up infrastructure as he is about individuals’ "consumptive" borrowing.