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Published April 17 2012

Forum editorial: US House stalls new farm bill

Published comments by Congressman Rick Berg, R-N.D., about a new farm bill seem to be at odds with his voting record in the U.S. House. An enthusiastic supporter of the so-called Ryan budget proposal, Berg also said he supports the U.S. Senate’s farm bill. That’s curious because farm bill provisions in Rep. Paul Ryan’s, R-Wis., budget plan are far different and far less generous than those in the Senate’s version.

“To be perfectly clear,” Berg told the Bismarck Tribune, “I support the Senate bill.”

What is not perfectly clear, however, is Berg’s vote for the Ryan budget as it relates to farm legislation. The Ryan ax slashes about $180 billion over 10 years in farm, conservation and nutrition funding. However, House and Senate agriculture committees agreed to cut $23 billion from the same farm bill programs. The difference is significant, to say the least.

The congressman insists support for Ryan’s plan and support for the Senate farm bill are not inconsistent. It’s difficult to understand how he comes to that conclusion, but maybe he’s among those who believe there will be no new farm bill until after the election. Therefore, the thinking goes, everything in proposed farm legislation is still on the table.

Let’s hope so. The bill proposed by House and Senate ag committees makes major cuts in farm program spending, which are necessary. But the bipartisan Senate bill does not sacrifice a market-based safety net for producers. Nor does it scuttle a better USDA/private insurer crop insurance partnership. Ryan’s cuts are so deep they likely would dismember both.

Berg’s prediction that not much will be done about a farm bill until after the election was confirmed by Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., the ranking member of the House ag committee, and arguably the congressman who knows more about farm legislation than anyone else in Washington. Peterson also knows the delay is related directly to the Ryan budget proposal. “The process outlined by the House Republican budget all but guarantees there will be no farm bill this year,” Peterson told Reuters. In other words, Berg’s vote for the Ryan budget contributes to stalling a new farm bill.

When it comes to farm legislation, members of North Dakota’s congressional delegation have always distinguished between myopic ideology and bipartisan pragmatism. Pragmatism has been “the North Dakota way” as far back as Sens. Milton Young and Quentin Burdick, and when Mark Andrews was in the House. It is “the way” this year between Sen. Kent Conrad and Sen. John Hoeven. But on the House side, a different way seems to be at work.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.

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