VIEWPOINT: Take pride in delegation's pivotal role in farm bill
MOORHEAD -- As the director of government affairs for American Crystal Sugar Company, I have the privilege of representing 3,000 family farmers, 2,000 employees, and -- indirectly, at least -- thousands of others who benefit from having a stable ...
MOORHEAD -- As the director of government affairs for American Crystal Sugar Company, I have the privilege of representing 3,000 family farmers, 2,000 employees, and -- indirectly, at least -- thousands of others who benefit from having a stable sugar industry that generates $3 billion in annual economic activity in the Red River Valley.
For the past two years, I have focused on the 2008 farm bill, a piece of legislation that contains so much more than farm programs yet is, of course, so critical to our agricultural economy.
The task of writing this bill was extremely difficult because of fewer dollars, more demands and stubborn opposition. The last farm bill was a victim of its own success. Farm programs pay out less when commodity prices are high, so Congress had less money to work with writing this one. There were new needs from fruit and vegetable growers, nutrition groups and conservation interests.
In addition, there was opposition from reformers who apparently -- and short-sightedly -- think commodity prices will be high forever. So with all these challenges, how did Congress do it?
With skill, professionalism, and bipartisanship -- all things many people think Congress lacks. Yet they're all things our North Dakota and Minnesota congressional delegations -- especially Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn.; Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D.; Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D.; Sens. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; and Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. -- showed on a daily basis.
I want to bring special attention to Peterson, Pomeroy and Conrad, since their positions made them key decision-makers at every step of the process -- especially the final stage, the critical negotiations of the House-Senate conference committee.
Nobody spent more time and was more dedicated to a successful bipartisan outcome than Peterson, chair of the House Agriculture Committee. His pure determination to craft good policies for his constituents and stakeholders all across the country was truly remarkable to witness.
Conrad, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, guided the farm bill with not only his unmatched knowledge of the dollars and cents involved but of the policy as well. As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, "This bill was dead on at least 15 different occasions, but it was revived." Conrad revived it. He made certain that smart compromises were reached, that budget rules were followed and that the job got done.
Pomeroy, the only member of Congress to serve on both the House Ways and Means and Agriculture committees, was the glue who held together the critical rural-urban coalition.
Coleman, too, deserves credit for the courage he showed in staking out a set of farm policy positions at odds with the president who, after all, is the leader of the Senator's party. Coleman's early pledge to help lead a congressional override of a presidential veto should not go unnoticed.
These leaders were focused on results. And what were those results?
n A fully paid-for farm bill that doesn't contain tax increases.
n A set of food, farm, conservation, energy, research and other laws that put our country on the right path for the future;
n And a policymaking victory for our region and the nation at a time when our country needs our leaders to work together.
The president should have embraced the farm bill, but instead, he chose to veto it. Now that he has made his decision, I look forward to Congress sending the president a message that says, "We were right the first time", and overriding his veto.
The citizens of Minnesota and North Dakota ought to feel good about the choices they made in recent elections. Against significant odds and political obstacles, their leaders really delivered. The 2008 farm bill is a great example of that.
Price directs government affairs for the American Crystal Sugar Company.