The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens

Baucus backs trade adjustment assistance with trade pacts


Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., told a meat export group today that the pending trade agreements with Korea, Panama and Colombia must be passed together with trade adjustment assistance for American workers, and then proceeded to a lengthy and somewhat unexpected discussion of the 2012 farm bill.

“U.S. farm exports are booming … but competitors are gaining ground,” Baucus told the U.S. Meat Export Federation, a Denver-based U.S. promotion group that was meeting in Washington.

“I will not rest until the agreements are approved,” Baucus said. “The free trade agreements will not move unless we can agree on a robust long term trade adjustment assistance program,” he added, noting that the two go together “like a horse and carriage.”

In an interview after the speech, Baucus said that people who want the free trade agreement to pass must understand that “the free trade agreements and trade adjustment assistance are one package.” Baucus added that all the details of the agreements and trade adjustment assistance are not finalized, but that they are moving forward. If one gets bogged down, it could endanger the whole package, he said.

Scott Shearer, an agricultural lobbyist who attend the conference, said most farm and business lobbyists understand that trade adjustment assistance must be passed in order to secure the trade agreements.

Noting his long relationship with the U.S. Meat Export Federation promoting meat exports going back to the 1970s, Baucus thanked the group for its support of his quest to push Korea to allow more U.S. meat imports. “There were other organizations that were satisfied with the status quo,” he said.

Moving to the farm bill, Baucus noted there has been speculation that the Senate might pass a farm bill first, and said that since many House members are inexperienced and not supporters of farm programs, “it might make sense to start in the Senate.”

One of the biggest difficulties is that the 2008 farm bill contains 37 programs costing $9 billion that will expire, he said. That includes the permanent farm disaster program that Baucus helped write.

But with the volatile weather the nation has been experiencing, “the disaster package in the next farm bill will be vital,” Baucus said.

Congress must make sure that the government can continue to pay interest on its debt after August 2, he said. “Never in the history of the United States has the government defaulted,” he said, adding that a default would cause interest rates to rise dramatically and make it hard or impossible to get loans.

Of the general budget debate, Baucus said, the budget should not be balanced on “seniors, people living in poverty, and those who live in rural America.”

Agriculture Department funding, he noted, “has been in the cross hairs.” A farm bill with disproportionate cuts is “something I won’t stand for,” he said, adding that that the farm bill “will have to do more with less.”

Noting that he is working with Vice President Joe Biden and other lawmakers on a budget proposal, Baucus said, “I am the only one in the room with an understanding of rural America.”