Coleman: Outlook good for farm bill

WORTHINGTON -- Sen. Norm Coleman remained optimistic Thursday that a new farm bill will be approved yet this year despite continued opposition from President Bush.

WORTHINGTON -- Sen. Norm Coleman remained optimistic Thursday that a new farm bill will be approved yet this year despite continued opposition from President Bush.

After the Senate passed a one-week extension of current farm law Thursday, Coleman spoke on that and other matters during a brief phone conversation with the Daily Globe.

"Today the Senate passed another short-term extension. ... We kicked the can down the road one more week," Coleman, a Republican, said. "We're pretty close (to a new bill). A sticky point still relates to some Senate-ag tax provisions, and from the White House perspective, $10 million in the farm bill that's above the baseline."

Bush has asked Congress to extend the law for a year or longer as negotiations on a new farm bill have hit snags. The president believes the new legislation is too expensive and would not do enough to cut subsidy payments to wealthy farmers in a time of record crop prices.

Coleman, meanwhile, is a supporter of a new farm bill that contains "good" tax credits for ethanol, biodiesel, wind energy and other renewable energy initiatives.


"This is a really good farm bill," he said. "There's also a provision I got in that would encourage local ownership ... and help farmers to improve their grain storage capacity. I could go on and on. There's emergency money for food shelves. ... There's a log of money for renewable energy, which is important. We're not done, but we're in the game."

Farm legislation passed by the House and Senate last year would cost roughly $280 billion over five years, with about two-thirds of the cost going to food stamps and other nutrition programs. Negotiators have been arguing for months over how to pay for the bill and still haven't agreed.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D- Iowa, said a deal is "very close" on the bill, but paperwork would not be finished by May 2, when current law would expire under a new extension. Harkin originally asked for a two-week extension, but Sen. Larry Craig, D-Idaho, objected.

The House is expected to pass the extension by today.

Also Thursday, Coleman expressed his pleasure with a House vote to block rules that he said he would make "devastating" Medicaid cuts.

"One of the areas I've been working on is Medicare," Coleman said. "We're literally talking about millions of dollars. As the glue that holds Minnesota's Medicaid program together, I have been fighting long and hard to preserve case management services for our most vulnerable populations.

"We really use the funding to lower the cost of services and use it to deliver services to the poorest of the poor," he added. "Changing it would have a devastating effect."

Coleman, who last November spoke about veterans issues during a visit to Worthington, also noted new legislation that just got passed in the Senate.


"The Senate passed a provision dealing with housing crisis, and one thing particularly important to me is that it triples the grace period that veterans will have for dealing with mortgage foreclosure problems," said Coleman, who noted he had pushed for a year grace period but got nine months instead. The bill still awaits passage in the House, he added.

Another measure just approved in the Senate will add substantial funding for disabled veterans, Coleman continued.

"We just voted this morning ... 96-1 ... and added hundreds of millions of dollars in services for disabled veterans," Coleman said, explaining those who are eligible include veterans younger than age 65 and have suffered traumatic injuries in combat since 2001. The bill is known as the Veterans Benefit Improvement Act.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Ryan McGaughey arrived in Worthington in April 2001 as sports editor of The Daily Globe, and first joined Forum Communications Co. upon his hiring as a sports reporter at The Dickinson (North Dakota) Press in November 1998. McGaughey became news editor in Worthington in November 2002 and editor in August 2006.
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