Attached graphic shows how Illinois Congressman voted
Editors: Questions, centered on subsidies, were faxed to Illinois’ 19 members of U.S. House of Representatives and two U.S. senators. Follow-up calls were made once a week for five weeks.
Seven of the House members answered the survey. Please pull out the responses relevant to your area.
1. What’s more important in the farm bill:
A. Ensuring the viability of family farms
B. Ensuring a reliable, affordable food supply for the nation
Rep. Donald Manzullo (R-16): Both A & B. Ensuring the access and affordability of the food supply which was the original intent of the farm bill, cannot be done without ensuring the viability of family farms. That is why the farm bill works to attain both. It supports the continuation of farms through rural development, farm credit lending, and attempts to repeal the estate tax, as well as through subsidies, which dually support the life of the farms and the affordability of the food supply.
Rep. Timothy Johnson (R-15): The American farmer participates in an extremely vital, yet unpredictable, profession. My top priority for the current farm bill is to maintain a secure farm safety net, and I believe the bill which passed the House of Representatives does just that. The folks in the 15th District of Illinois, and moreover, the entire country, are blessed to have an abundant and secure food supply and through a sensible farm policy, we can see this continue.
Rep. Phil Hare (D-17): I don’t believe these two issues are mutually exclusive. The viability of family farms is critical to ensuring a reliable, affordable food supply for the nation and producing this food supply ensures the viability of our family farms. I believe both are equally important in the farm bill.
Rep. Danny Davis (D-7): Ensuring a reliable food supply for the nation requires viable family farms. Farmers need a fair price to achieve profitability on their work and their investment. If we couple appropriate subsidies with the removal of barriers to a fair marketplace, we have gone a long way toward both. We also need natural disaster assistance, and an end to the exploding trend toward concentration in agriculture through anti-trust enforcement.
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-2): The Farm, Nutrition and Bioenergy Act of 2007 successfully protects family farms and provides a reliable and affordable food supply for the nation. Both objectives are critically important and dependent on each other. This legislation also confronts our growing concerns about energy consumption and domestic hunger.
Rep. Ray LaHood (R-18): Agriculture is one of America’s most important, yet vulnerable, industries. Farmers cannot just uproot their crops or price their products on the open market. They do not have the luxury of knowing if crops will be available for harvest. Given the inherent uncertainty in agriculture, I believe it is important for Congress to carefully draft the farm bill to ensure that they are providing farmers with an adequate safety net.
Rep. Bobby Rush (D-1): Both. In a state where approximately 80 percent of the land is farmed, we must ensure the viability of family farms. Additionally, a reliable and affordable food supply for our nation is a result of family farms remaining viable. I’d also like to add that I’ve pushed for more funds and creative linkages between producers/farmers and urban areas. In a state with so much agriculture, urban centers like Chicago should not have areas where people cannot access fresh, affordable fruits and vegetables. These “food deserts” occur in urban centers throughout the nation, and I am working with Chairman Peterson (Collin C. Peterson, chairman of House Agriculture Committee) to focus on increasing access to both producers and consumers.
2. Should subsidies be based on:
Manzullo: Both A & B. Again, price and yield are not mutually exclusive categories when dealing with the idea of a safety net for price or production disasters. Both can be important to farmers. The recently passed House version of the 2007 farm bill has a new provision that allows farmers to opt into a revenue-based counter-cyclical program. This new revenue-based option would be one component of the farm bill that would provide payments to farmers when the actual national revenue per acre for the commodity is less than the national target revenue per acre. Revenue is calculated using both price and yield for a commodity. The counter-cyclical revenue option is a new choice for farmers managing both price and production risks associated with farming. Other provisions in the farm bill continue to provide a safety net to producers when prices are low.
Johnson: As the only member of the House Agriculture Committee from Illinois, I am pleased that my colleagues and I crafted a bill that maintains the framework of the 2002 bill. Given the high price of corn, direct payments (based on historical yield and production) are very important to farmers in my district. Counter-cyclical payments, another part of the safety net for farm income, provide automatic payments to farmers when market prices are below a target price set in statute. The House-passed bill offers farmers a one-time choice between the existing price counter-cyclical payments and a new revenue counter-cyclical payment.
Hare: Since there are factors outside of the control of farmers that affect the price and yield of agricultural products, such as drought and other natural disasters, we need a safety net that is revenue-based, as proposed by Sen. Durbin (Dick) and other colleagues of mine. If we go to a revenue-based subsidy program, it would pay out based on price and yield, giving farmers the financial security they need. However, I also believe we need accountability in the subsidy program.
Davis: Fair price. Please see answer to question 1.
Jackson: The farm bill passed by the House allows farmers to choose between the current form of counter-cyclical payments, which are tied to prices, or payments based on a national revenue target, tied to both price and yield. I support subsidy payments that are equitable, help small and minority farmers and prevent big businesses from collecting the largest share of subsidies.
LaHood: I am encouraged that the House bill maintains the 2002 farm bill framework that has direct payments based on historical production, and counter-cyclical payments that would kick in when market prices are below a target price set in statute. I am, however, very intrigued by the revenue-based assistance proposal that is being considered in the Senate. It is my understanding that this proposal would address a shortfall in the current program that penalizes farmers suffering from regional drought conditions, in which their yields are low and prices are high, but because they have little to sell; they would not receive a counter-cyclical price support. I believe that this proposal has some merit and encourage the Senate to fully explore this option to see if it could be incorporated into the farm bill debate.
Rush: Both. We must provide safety-nets for producers based on price and production. Different producers are facing different market challenges. Illinois corn and soy producers are not facing the same market challenges that Illinois cattle and livestock farmers are; therefore, we must take into account the different price and production challenges and opportunities facing each individual farm.
3. In the next five years, should the government spend:
A. More on farm subsidies
C. The same amount that’s being spent now
Manzullo: B, less. The long-range goal is to wean farmers off subsidies so they are more self-sufficient and less reliant on the government, thereby strengthening their bottom line and protecting them from the whims of the bureaucracy. Technology is making farming more efficient and cost-effective every day. Whether they are using GPS systems to plant their crops or employing methane digesters to capture energy and cut their electric and gas bills, farmers are finding ways to cut costs and improve production. In addition, researchers are consistently finding new uses and new markets for agricultural products, such as using switchgrass to make ethanol. The Ag Tech Park in Belvidere offers a place to commercialize these new technologies. Greater efficiencies in farming and new uses and markets for agricultural products will go a long way to help our farmers wean themselves from government subsidies.
Johnson: Because of high commodity prices, the 2002 farm bill will spend nearly $22 billion less on farm support programs than what the Congressional Budget Office estimated. The House-passed farm bill will be beneficial to producers both small and large as they make economic decisions over the next seven years. This is an exciting time for American agriculture, and farmers in my district need to have the ability to participate in and take advantage of these important commodity and conservation programs.
Hare: Same amount. I support the provisions in the 2007 farm bill, so I believe we should continue to spend the amount laid out in the bill over the next five years. Going below this amount creates uncertainty and threatens the safety and security of our food supply.
Davis: Less, but redirected to those in need. For example, I worked hard to control sugar subsidies which have disproportionately flowed to the wealthiest farmers and have distorted the price of sugar to the detriment of both farmers and consumers.
Lahood: I believe that Congress needs to do all it can to help make farming economically viable for small and large farmers. Farmers are much more than producers of food and fiber; they are stewards of their land who are environmentally conscious and concerned about how the use of their land affects surrounding areas. They provide clean water, wildlife protection, and open spaces which are important to the quality of life in Illinois. This year’s farm bill reauthorization provided Congress with the opportunity to re-evaluate many of the programs which farmers utilize to sustain their livelihoods. When I visit local farms in Illinois, I see our farmers taking advantage of these important programs. From conservation, credit and even grant programs, I have seen firsthand how these programs encourage economic growth, and I fully support their goals.
Rush: The House-passed farm bill legislation provided payment limitation reforms that I supported and voted for.
4. Do you favor a means test for farm-subsidy recipients?
Manzullo: A, Yes. A means test currently exists in law at $2.5 million.
Johnson: Under current law, farmers earning an adjusted gross income of $2.5 million or more are not eligible to receive farm program payments. My colleagues and I on the House Agriculture Committee took a large step toward reform by decreasing this amount to $1 million. Furthermore, if you make more than $500,000 a year in AGI, two-thirds of this has to come from your farming operation or you are ineligible for farm payments as well. The House bill also requires direct attribution of payments to a natural person, instead of to a corporation or general partnership. The Congressional Budget Office has indicated that these reforms will save $227 million.
Hare: Yes. I support bailing out farmers who really need it. I do not support federally subsidizing million or multi-million dollar farms. There should be a cap, and those just above that cap must prove a substantial percentage of their income is generated from agriculture.
Jackson: Subsidy payments should support farmers who are truly in need of government assistance during hardships. The current measure passed by the House lowered the adjusted gross income limit to $1 million from $2.5 million, while it also increased the maximum individual payments qualified farmers can collect in direct payments to $60,000 from $40,000.
Rush: The House passed Farm Bill legislation provided payment limitation reforms that I supported and voted for.
5. If yes, what should the limit, in terms of adjusted gross income be?
Manzullo: We just passed the $1 million limit in this year’s farm bill. Aside from receiving subsidies, the farm bill we just passed also sets a cap for program monies of $125,000 per person for all programs.
Johnson: See above.
Hare: I support the provisions passed in the 2007 Farm Bill, which caps
eligibility for the subsidy program at $500,000, requiring those farms with revenues between $500,000 and $1 million to prove that at least two-thirds of their income comes from agriculture.
Davis: I support the $1 million cap and the rules adopted to prevent circumvention of limits.
Jackson: I supported the bill as passed which sets the adjusted gross income to $1 million.
LaHood: A great deal of emphasis has been placed on payments farmers receive, but very little information has been provided as to how those payments are made. Total payment numbers are generated from a total of 17 individual programs run by the USDA, and that each program has a payment cap to limit the amount an individual may receive. These programs include commodity programs, livestock programs, conservation programs, as well as trade and marketing assistance programs. Over 28,000 farmers in my congressional district participate in farm bill programs and receive some form of government assistance. All of the farmers with whom I have talked want to make money from the market place and not through government payments; however, I believe that without this level of assistance, we would have significantly fewer farmers and ranchers in Central Illinois. Our rural economy is under considerable economic pressure, and it has become increasingly harder for small family operations to stay afloat without off farm income, or additional support.
6. Do you support the farm bill passed by the House?
Manzullo: B, No. In the final hours before passing the bipartisan farm bill before the full House, the Democrat leadership added in a new $7.5 billion tax increase on foreign direct investment in the U.S., unfortunately pitting manufacturing and service industries against agriculture. I represent more than 30 manufacturers employing 6,400 workers in northern Illinois that could face the extra tax and layoffs as a result. Instead, I voted for the Republican alternative bill (it failed) that was the original farm bill without the tax increase on manufacturers.
Johnson: I am very pleased that the Farm Bill passed through the House with my support. This important legislation will benefit the 15th District of Illinois by maintaining the farm safety net, increasing funds for conservation and nutrition programs, and improving rural development initiatives. The House-passed bill is good legislation, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to ensure that we maintain a smart, sound agricultural policy for this country.
Hare: Yes. I voted for the 2007 farm bill because it maintains a strong safety net and provides disaster assistance for Illinois’ farmers. It also makes historic investments in conservation and biofuels, which benefit Illinois agriculture. Additionally, the 2007 farm bill makes critical investments in our rural communities by renewing successful programs that provide vital health care and economic development in rural areas.
Davis: I voted for the farm bill passed by the House. Please see: ROLL CALL #756 ( H R 2419) 27-Jul-2007
Jackson: Yes, I voted for the 2007 farm bill.
LaHood: Ultimately, I am pleased that this legislation passed, which will begin the process of providing the guidelines for government agriculture assistance spending through 2012. It is important that farmers throughout Illinois and the country continue to have the appropriate assistance programs in place to help them deal with the predictable/unpredictableness, unique to the farming industry. However, I continue to hold reservations for how these programs will be financed. In particular, I am concerned about the language, which was inserted by the Democratic leadership after the bill passed out of Committee, which would significantly increase taxes on a number of multinational corporations with vested interests in the United States, ultimately pitting the interests of the American job market versus those of the American farmer. I remain concerned that this tax increase would cause many corporations, who bring jobs to the U.S., to relocate elsewhere, no longer seeing any beneficial reason to continuing to operate within our borders. With the recent trend of more American jobs moving overseas, the last thing our government should consider is more restrictive barriers for those who desire to invest in America. At the same time, I fear that the inclusion of this tax language could cause a retaliatory effect on American companies with vested interests throughout the rest of the world. A number of American-based companies have profited greatly from expansion into the world market and have been able to grow the American workforce. I am concerned that if this tax legislation is enacted, countries around the world would feel obligated to introduce retaliatory laws on American companies with assets in their countries by either raising taxes on these companies or through other means such as increased tariffs or other trade barriers.
Compiled by Alex Gary, Rockford Register Star.