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Roberts hopes for Senate Ag farm bill by May, FSA crop insurance proposal DOA

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said today that he is hopeful the committee will finish a farm bill by Memorial Day, and noted that a proposal to turn the crop insurance program or portions of it over to the Farm Service Agency county offices is “dead on arrival.”

In a telephone call to the Crop Insurance and Reinsurance Bureau meeting here, Roberts said he believes the high level of experience of so many committee members will help them complete a bill by the end of May. But if that goal is not reached, Roberts said, the committee will have to “just keep on working” to “do it as soon as we can.”

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who will chair a series of four farm bill hearings starting next week, provided a video to the conference, and has already said she wants to finish a bill in committee by Memorial Day.
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan.
Roberts said he does not believe all the farm leaders will reach consensus on a program. Describing them as singing hymns together, he said they may not be singing the same hymn and that some may be singing off-key.

He also noted that when he chaired the House Agriculture Committee, he used to “lock them in a room,” send in lunch and tell them they could not come out until they had agreed. The farm groups, Roberts said, need to agree “not on the best possible bill, but the best bill possible.”

Roberts also suggested that the bill should be attached “to anything that moves,” and that taking the bill to the floor “could be bloody.”

Rice and peanut groups that have said they want higher target prices “know they have to go to something else,” he said.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., will insist on a new version of the now-expired permanent disaster program known as SURE, Roberts said, even though “SURE wasn’t sure” because the payments took so long to make.

Roberts also said he believes the farm bill that was prepared for the supercommittee in charge of deficit reduction contained “a good crop insurance title.” He added, “I think we can defend it.”

Of the proposals by the National Association of FSA County Office Employees for the FSA offices to administer the crop insurance program or take over parts of it, Roberts said, “that is a loony idea. I thought we shot that proposal down when I was on the House Agriculture Committee.”

Congress has given Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack authority to close FSA offices, Roberts noted.

Roberts is one of the key authors of the crop insurance program and was its key defender during the preparation of the farm bill for the supercommittee.

On a side note, Roberts joked that the Republican presidential nominating process has dragged on for so long he has decided to endorse Leroy Jethro Gibbs, the fictional character and the main protagonist of the CBS TV series "NCIS."