EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. — With a sharply divided Congress, the
only chance for agreement on a new farm bill lies in bold compromise, according
to two Republican legislators from Illinois.
Sen. Mark Kirk and Rep. Rodney Davis addressed media
representatives prior to a meeting of Kirk’s agriculture advisory board here.
They agreed that differences will have to be ironed out in conference committee,
a panel comprised by members of the House and Senate.
Davis said the sharp divide between the two chambers
requires concessions by members on both sides.
“To get a farm bill in place, what we need to do is get it
to conference committee,” he said. “A bill in the Democratic-controlled Senate
will always have more, cost more and never pass the House. Conversely, a bill in
the Republican-controlled House will always have less, cost less and never pass
“We have to make sure that our leaders don’t get bogged down
in the details until we get to the conference committee, so then we can find the
common-sense solutions that Senator Kirk and I are working together for.”
Kirk likened the legislation to a ship in rough seas.
“If you look at the farm bill in the current deficit
politics in Washington, it’s like we’re in a boat looking out to a storm and you
say, ‘Do we really need to go out there?’” he said. “The farm bill in these
bills could be looking really different.”
He believes a leaner bill will be the reality.
“A farm bill that costs less will have a greater opportunity
to pass the House and Senate,” he said. “That’s my political view.”
He added that a bill with Republican support would include a
slimmed-down farm subsidy portion.
“It would probably have some means testing in it,” he said.
“If you’re wealthy, you probably can’t qualify for a subsidy.”
Davis pointed out that the most important part of the bill
for most farmers — subsidized crop insurance — should not only be maintained,
“I think it’s crucial that we have a strengthened crop
insurance program,” he said. “Crop insurance here in Illinois is working. It’s
cost effective, and it’s budgeted, unlike the disaster assistance in the
According to Davis, there is little likelihood of separating
the agricultural components of the farm bill from the bill’s largest entity —
the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the Food Stamp
“There are many in Congress on both sides who would like to
see the bill separated, but I don’t think that’s reality right now,” he said.
“We’re going to go through a farm bill process that will include the SNAP and
will include our agricultural long-term policy needs together, and we need to
work within those parameters.”
The food assistance program is ripe for reform, according to
Kirk. He pointed to reports that the native Chechen brothers accused of the
terror bombings at the Boston Marathon received government assistance that
included food subsidies.
“There’s obviously some security, some integrity reforms
that we need to look at with SNAP,” he said. “The Boston bombers were apparently
on welfare. We want to make sure that the program has real integrity.”
He also is pushing for inclusion in the farm bill of a
bipartisan initiative introduced by a quartet of Illinois legislators aimed at
river transportation improvements.
The Water Infrastructure Now Public-Private Partnership Act
would create a pilot program to look at producing agreements between the Army
Corps of Engineers and private entities for funding of river infrastructure
It was introduced by Kirk and Davis, along with Illinois
Democrats Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Cheri Bustos.
“Any farm bill to be meaningful to Illinois would have to
include aspects of the Durbin-Kirk public-private partnership legislation,” Kirk