Sen. Tom Coburn, the fiscal hawk Republican from Muskogee, might have surprised a few people in December when he voted for a farm bill that was heavily criticized by his natural allies in the Senate and groups like Citizens Against Government Waste that have long supported him.
Well, today he’s back “in character.” Coburn was one of 15 senators to vote against the bill and he didn’t mince words about it. Here’s his statement:
“As food and gas prices reach record highs and families are feeling the strain on their budgets, this bill does nothing to help improve the quality of life for farmers and hard-working families. Rather, this bill gives billions to huge conglomerates, special interest groups and inefficient nutrition programs. Congress has put their elections and parochial interests ahead of traditional farmers and middle class families,” Dr. Coburn said.
“The final version of the legislation expands subsidies to many non-essential crops such as strawberries and other fruits and vegetables, increases sugar costs by $2 billion annually for taxpayers and does nothing to remove wasteful, duplicative and unnecessary programs at the already bloated United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The bill also does little to address payments to deceased farmers and limit subsidies to non-farming land owners.
“After more than a year of negotiations on the Farm Bill, Congress has produced a bill that is bad for American agriculture, consumers and taxpayers. It is clear that elected leaders in Washington have lost sight of what this bill means to so many making an honest living providing food for our nation. Congress has put the priorities of special interest non-farm lobbyists over the long-term interests of Oklahoma farmers and ranchers. This is not a farm bill. It is a nutrition/social programs bill, with a few farm programs thrown in,” said Dr. Coburn.
You can read more at Coburn’s website.
Meanwhile, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, supported the farm bill. Here’s what he said:
“Oklahoma’s agricultural community spoke loud and clear about their support of this legislation,” Senator Inhofe said. “This Farm Bill maintains the commodity support safety net for America’s farmers and ranchers who provide us with the safest and most abundant food supply in the world. It ensures that Oklahoma will continue to be a national leader in agriculture production, as our cotton and wheat farmers will continue to enjoy the support and certainty these programs provide.”
The Conference Report for the 2007 Farm Bill, which passed today by a vote of 81-15, includes a bioenergy crop amendment championed by Senator Inhofe. The provision, which Senator Inhofe worked with Congressman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) to develop and enact, provides transitional assistance to farmers who produce bioenergy crops, like switchgrass and sorghum.
“While Oklahoma has long been a leader in oil and natural gas production, our state is quickly emerging as a leader in the field of cellulosic biofuels,” Inhofe said. “Today, world-class scientists at Oklahoma State University and the Noble Foundation are working with farmers across Oklahoma to develop cellulosic bioenergy crops, like switchgrass, that don’t compete with feed for livestock.” Senator Inhofe has pushed to address corn-starch ethanol mandates which contribute to driving up food and fuel prices, something this provision addresses.
The 2007 Farm Bill also authorizes rural development programs, provides a boost to conservation programs, such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQUIP), and over $1 billion to fund programs that help the renewable energy industry invest in technologies that use a variety of sources beyond feed grains. The bill also reduces the corn ethanol tax, redirecting it to incentives for cellulosic ethanol production, expands renewable energy programs and increases funding for bioenergy research.
Language similar to Senator Inhofe’s amendment to the Senate passed Farm Bill giving priority consideration to grant proposals to find innovative ways to make use of animal waste, specifically that of poultry waste, was also included in the bill. During a hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Oklahoma State University Professor Mike Dicks testified about the need to harness the potential of this resource, rather than treating it simply as a waste. Inhofe said, “There is great promise in creating energy from animal waste, and my amendment will ensure we pursue all options for utilizing this by-product.
Senator Inhofe was pleased that the conferees rejected several harmful provisions in the final bill, such as a ban on packer ownership that would have been detrimental to the operations of cattlemen in Oklahoma and across the country, as well as a $4 billion tax increase on businesses. “These provisions threatened the viability of this important bill, and I am glad they were removed from the final legislation.”