Peanut, Dairy Programs Killed in House Farm Bill

Efforts to extend federal programs helping peanut and dairy farmers were quashed Tuesday as the House passed a bill funding farm and food programs.

The Milk Income Loss Contract program pays dairy farmers when milk prices fall below a specified level. The peanut storage program pays storage and handling fees as peanut farmers market their crop.

Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., obtained a one-year extension of the peanut program during Appropriations Committee debate on the bill earlier this month. Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., won a one-month extension of the MILC program.

Those steps were noteworthy because they extended the two programs until the 2002 farm bill expires next year. That would have given supporters a leg up in extending them during next year's farm bill debate.

But Agriculture Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., objected to the intrusion onto his turf and killed the provisions on procedural grounds.

"We will now face a situation under which dairy will be at a distinct disadvantage when the farm bill is renewed," Obey said.

The House approved the bill 378-46. A Senate committee will begin work on the legislation after the Memorial Day recess.

Kingston predicted Georgia's senators would have more success in extending the peanut storage program, which expires at the end of the crop year.

The bill would also cut off funds for the government's planned livestock tracking program until the Agriculture Department comes up with a formal plan. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns has said he wants the system in place by 2009, but the department has sent mixed signals about how it will be run and whether compliance will be mandatory.

The goal is to pinpoint a single animal's movements among the nation's 9 billion cows, pigs and chickens within 48 hours after a disease is discovered.

Many livestock producers have been wary of a tracking system, which the government promised to create after the nation's first case of mad cow disease two years ago in Washington state.

The broader bill essentially freezes funding for programs under the direct control of lawmakers at $18.5 billion. Bush proposed a cut of $564 million from such programs, about 3 percent.

All told, the bill contains $94.5 billion, including funding for benefit programs such as food stamps.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., said the bill contains $435 million worth of so-called hometown earmarks by lawmakers. He says that total is $35 million below a comparable figure for last year's bill.

Debate grew testy as Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a vocal opponent of earmarks, offered a spate of amendments to strip out earmarks such as $726,000 to develop a marketing plan to showcase the greenhouse nursery of Ohio's Maumee Valley and $180,000 for research on hydroponic tomato farming. Each amendment was defeated by margins exceeding 3-1 or by voice votes.

"These are pork-barrel projects," Flake said. "We shouldn't be funding them."

"The number of earmarks has gotten grotesquely out of hand," acknowledged Obey, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee.

"Who knows the needs of their constituents better? Bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., or members of Congress?" said Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho.

Rep. Henry Bonilla of Texas, GOP floor leader on the bill, suggested Flake was hungry for headlines while the appropriations panel did the heavy lifting of curbing agency budgets.

For the fourth year in a row, the bill contains language seeking to permit the importation of prescription drugs that are typically sold for a lower price abroad than they are in the United States.

The drug importation plan is opposed by the White House, GOP leaders and the powerful prescription drug lobby. It is sure to be dropped from the bill in House-Senate negotiations as it has each time in the past.

The underlying bill preserves the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, targeted for elimination by President Bush in February in a cost-cutting move.

The program gives beneficiaries powdered milk, vegetables, cereal, juice, meat, fruit, rice, cheese and other food as an alternative to food stamps.