Posted: Thursday, January 31, 2013 12:00 PM
Mitch Lies/Capital Press
Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., gives the opening address to participants in the 2013 Harvesting Clean Energy conference Jan. 27 in Corvallis, Ore.
Schrader: 'It is all about the dairy program at the end of the day'
By MITCH LIES
CORVALLIS, Ore. -- House Speaker John Boehner refused to bring the farm bill to a vote last year because he disagreed with the bill's dairy policy, says Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore.
"That's the real story," Schrader, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, said on Jan. 27.
And whether a new farm bill passes any time soon hinges on a resolution of the differences in dairy policy preferences between Boehner and House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., Schrader said.
"If the speaker and the ranking member can resolve that and allow something to move forward, we've got a farm bill," said Schrader.
"It is all about the dairy program at the end of the day," Schrader said. "The speaker does not like the ranking member's dairy program."
Schrader said Boehner "promised IDFA (the International Dairy Foods Association) the bill wouldn't get a hearing."
"The speaker has a right to disagree," Schrader said. "But he's not on the committee, and it's not his province to thwart the will of his own committee chairman and a bipartisan vote of the committee."
The House Agriculture Committee passed the farm bill on July 11 by a vote of 36-11. That same month, Boehner called the then current dairy program "Soviet-style" and said the program in the new farm bill would make it worse.
IDFA on its website said: "We strongly oppose new mandatory government programs to limit milk supply under the guise of managing price volatility."
It calls for policy "that will continue, not hinder, industry growth."
The failure of Congress to pass a bill last year left Northwest farmers in the lurch, Schrader said.
"We didn't get the extra billion bucks that we were going to get in the base farm bill (in specialty crop funding)," Schrader said. "And direct payments continue, so we're giving people money to not farm. Some of the energy sections that were in decent shape now become at risk."
Schrader said they won't be crafting a new bill from scratch, but instead will use the bill that didn't pass last year as a starting point.
Also, Schrader said, Peterson does not plan to hold multiple hearings on the bill.
"Collin talked to us and said there is no point in having a whole bunch of hearings. We've already done that. We've had tons of hearings. We know the general outline of where we are."
Also, Schrader said, it could be a while before the committee moves a bill to the floor.
"We all signed a letter to the speaker saying, 'Hey, we want some assurances that if we go up this hill again, have another vote on a farm bill, that it will be guaranteed floor time,'"he said. "Otherwise, we are not going to waste our time.
"And that is what American farmers and Oregon farmers deserve," Schrader said.
"We aren't going to waste your time, getting your hopes up and ask you for all this input when the speaker of the House refuses to let a bipartisan bill come to the floor," Schrader said.
Schrader, who gave the opening presentation of the 2013 Harvesting Clean Energy conference here Jan. 27, also said he is hoping to see comprehensive immigration reform come up this year.
"I think agriculture has a great opportunity to bring this to the fore," he said.
But, he said, passing reform "is going to be a tough battle."
"I don't see it as a difficult political measure for me, but for some ... that come from districts that have been redistricted where they have to be worried about the run to the right, they are terribly worried about a tea party guy taking them out because they are trying to work with immigrants," he said.
"I think the real push will have to come from the Senate side," he said.
Schrader said he also hopes to see reform in labor policy, particularly a stoppage of the use of the hot goods provision of U.S. labor laws on perishable goods.
U.S. Department of Labor officials issued hot goods orders on several Oregon blueberry farms this year. The order prevented goods from entering commerce until farmers paid the department fines and admitted wrong doing.
Schrader and five of the six other members of Oregon's congressional delegation wrote a letter to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis on Aug. 17 asking the secretary to explain the labor department's use of the provision on the Oregon farms. They have yet to receive a response, he said.
"The Department of Labor said they would get back to us," Schrader said. "They didn't do a damn thing."
Schrader called the U.S. Department of Labor's tactics "completely egregious and irresponsible."
"We are going to go after them in a big way. That is one of the top items on my agenda," he said.
"You can't have federal attorneys come in and imply that you must give this information and waive all your due process.
"This is terribly wrong. That is horrible coming from your federal government," he said.
"I'm not suggesting any farmer should be able to hire people illegally, or not pay them appropriately. They should be prosecuted if that is what happened," he said. "But you do it in a way that is fair."