U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich has chosen Spokane Rep. George Nethercutt to head a committee looking into pending changes to the Farm Bill and agricultural appropriations.
Nethercutt said the group’s work will include a plan of action “that will impress upon the leadership that it is not sufficient just to start cutting agriculture without some plan for helping production agriculture make it in the free market system or in the real world.”
The 33-member task force, which Nethercutt announced in a telephone conference with farmers here Wednesday, will be made up of congressional representatives not currently on the House Agriculture Committee, he said.
Further details could be unveiled sometime next week, Nethercutt spokesman Ken Lisaius said later in Washington, D.C.
Nethercutt made his remarks during the annual meeting of the Palouse Conservation District, which arranged for the Spokane Republican to answer questions about the farm bill and other farm-related subjects.
The farm bill, the main legislation covering farm subsidies critical to the wheat industry, stands to come under intense scrutiny as it is recast this year in the Capitol Hill environment of a balanced budget and limited government.
In his 25-minute talk, Nethercutt said it’s too early to say what will happen as the farm legislation is drafted. But he promised to work for several key elements dear to area growers, including export aid and research funding.
“The American public is going to have to understand what the consequences are of cutting the legs out from farmers, and I don’t think the American public understands,” he said. “And I don’t think a lot of members of Congress understand either.”
Responding to a question from Randy Suess, a Steptoe farmer, Nethercutt said he wants to see a continuation of the Export Enhancement Program, which subsidizes exports of wheat to foreign countries.
Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, is proposing major surgery for the program, but Nethercutt said that would be counterproductive.
“If we’re going to downsize the federal government, if we’re going to work away from government involvement in agriculture … I think we have to open markets,” he said. “We have to help production agriculture be successful world markets. EEP helps in that regard … These are good things that are not just boondoggle expenses for farmers.”
With the help of Sen. Slade Gorton, Nethercutt said he hopes to restore planning funds for an $8 million wheat research facility at Washington State University. He disputed the charge, made last month before the House Appropriations Committee, that he supported the facility at the expense of his pledge to fight pork barrel politics.
Nethercutt was downright stumped Wednesday when Bob Druffel, a farmer and manager of a local fertilizer plant, raised the issue of deficiency payments - sums paid to wheat farmers to cover the difference between the market price of their crop and a congressionally set target price.
Druffel explained how last year he netted just $14,000 farming 1,000 acres. Of that, $13,000 came from government payments, which Congress now stands to curtail sharply.
“My customers are all in the same situation,” Druffel said, “and that’s all they’re living off of. What can we do about it?”
“Oh boy,” Nethercutt sighed, his speaker phone voice echoing through the Uniontown community building before being drowned in a chorus of laughter. “I wish I had a real fast good answer. I can’t say that I do.”