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Farm bill must be passed this year, Miller says

2012_0224_MillerSpeaking
Jim Miller talks about the need to pass a 2012 farm bill at Thursday night's
Agricultural Outlook Forum dinner. (The Hagstrom Report/Charles E. de Bourbon)


By KIM de BOURBON

Jim Miller, the former Agriculture undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural services who is now a top aide to Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., made an impassioned plea for passing the farm bill this year.

“Let’s find compromises, let’s get it done,” Miller said in a dinner speech to the USDA Agriculture Outlook Forum Thursday night. Miller noted that the political scene could be even more divisive after the presidential and congressional elections in November.

Miller reaffirmed the expectation that the Senate will “go first” in crafting a new farm bill. “Then wait for the House to pass their screwy version of the legislation, and then fix it,” he said to his audience’s delight.

The Senate Agriculture Committee simply has “a tremendous amount of experience,” he noted, with half of its membership made up of former chairmen and the rest former ranking members or chairmen of other committees.

“It’s only natural that they go first, as they still have the ability to work in a bipartisan fashion,” Miller said.

By contrast, he said, more than half of the House Agriculture Committee changed in the last election, with many of its members having little legislative experience.

Jim Miller

Jim Miller
Miller said he expects work to begin on the new bill sometime soon after the committee completes its round of farm bill hearings in March. In the meantime, he said, there is a lot of work being done behind the scenes by staff.

He also noted that the agriculture committees were the only ones in Congress to make specific recommendations to the failed supercommittee on deficit reduction.

“I’d love to share them with you,” Miller said, noting that the supercommittee proposals have yet to be made public. “But I don’t know what all the details to be. They’re secret.”

The commodity title is likely to draw the most controversy, Miller said, acknowledging that an “uphill battle” is ahead and that “there isn’t going to be a significant amount of time available.”

Bipartisan, broad-based support is urgent, he said, because “whatever the policy is, we have to be able to defend it to our stakeholders, and to the taxpayers, the general public, who pay the bills, and in the international marketplace as well.”

Answering a question following his speech, Miller said a commitment to bio-based products is more than just biofuels, and is essential to the future of agriculture.

“If we fail to invest in this, we will miss the greatest opportunity available to agriculture today,” Miller said. “We have a tremendous opportunity, and we have to figure out how to capitalize on it.”