Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
Montana’s U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said Tuesday that he is certain some kind of permanent safety net for agricultural producers will be put in place in the Farm Bill being discussed in the Senate, although he can’t say whether it will be a disaster fund proposed by Montana’s Sen. Max Baucus or some other form of protection. “I will support whatever comes out of the ag committee as long as it has a safety net,” Tester said during a telephone news conference. “ I think Sen. Baucus’ proposal is as good as anybody’s.” Baucus, a senior member of the Senate Commi t tee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, has proposed offering tax credits in place of cash payments for conservation programs, which he said would free up from $8 billion to $10 billion in the Farm Bill. He also proPosed creating a permanent disaster trust fund, which would be used when farmers and ranchers prove that they have had a loss due to natural disasters like fires or drought. Under the current system, when an agricultural disaster is declared, Congress must appropriate funds on a case-by-case basis to pay the producers affected. Montana’s Rep. Denny Rehberg said he would support disaster aid. “The Senate needs to move quickly and pass a Farm Bill before the current one expires,” Rehberg said. “This legislation is critical for Montana farmers and including some type of ag disaster assistance package would make it even better. I look forward to crafting a sensible House-Senate compromise bill that keeps production agriculture as the top priority.” Tester said he doubts the 2007 Farm Bill will pass this week, and Congress will probably have to continue the previous bill until the new legislation is voted on. He hopes to see the new bill enacted into law before the end of the year, he said. He said that while countercyclical payments, which offset low prices of commodities to help farmers get back their cost of production, are helpful, they only help if the farmer produces a crop. Right now grain prices are good, but some farmers didn’t have much of a harvest, he said. “Last week it was about eight bucks a bushel, which is great if you cut a crop. If you don’t cut a crop it doesn’t matter if it’s $1 or $8,” Tester said. He said better prices and better harvests in some places in Montana have helped, but people will still need help. “You folks all know that Montana being as big a state as it is there will probably be a disaster every year,” he said. Tester also applauded proposals in the bill to promote alternative energy production and country-oforigin labeling for agricultural products, focusing primarily on meat to start with. The labeling will allow consumers to make informed choices, Tester said. “If you want to eat Australian beef you can, but I think most Montanans I know I will will want to buy (domestic beef),” he said. The Senate Monday passed a bill containing authorization to spend $153 million on rehabilitating the St. Mary Diversion, part of the Milk River Irrigation Project, which supplies much of the water that flows through the Milk River each year. Tester opened his news conference with a comment on the authorization, which the state and local activists have been trying to get for most of the decade, saying the investment will go a long way to provide water to communities and irrigators from Havre east to the Missouri River. The bill also contains other important water projects for the state, he added. “I know how important it is to provide water for our state,” Tester said. President Bush has threatened to veto the bill, as well as the Farm Bill when it passes, but Tester said there is enough support for the water resources bill to overcome a veto. “I think we got a strong vote out of it I think we got enough for an override,” he said. The water resources bill passed in the House of Representatives on Aug. 1 on a 381-40 vote, and passed the Senate Monday on an 81-12 vote. Tester said a major issue in the Senate this week is funding the military operations in Iraq, and discussing how long the U.S. troops should remain there. “I have made my position on this very clear,” Tester said. Tester said he believes the American presence in Iraq is not helping the political situation in the country, and it is not protecting U. S. lives. It has cost nearly 4,000 American lives in the conflict, and is costing $3 billion a week, he said. While he supports a timeline to start redeploying the troops, he does not support setting a deadline when all troops should be out of Iraq, adding that setting an exact date when all soldiers should be out is unworkable. Tester, a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, said he has received a collection of signatures and letters from the Hi-Line in support of starting a Veterans Affairs Clinic in Havre. Havre veteran Merrill Lundman collected the signatures and letters and forwarded them to Tester, Baucus, Rehberg, and others in state and federal government. Veterans in the Havre area must now travel to clinics in Great Falls or Glasgow or go to the VA Hospital at Fort Harrison near Helena to use their veterans benefits. Tester said he has started discussions on both the state and federal level about starting a VA clinic in Havre, as well as improving health care for veterans in other parts of the state. Access to health care is crucial regardless where people live, he said. “The bottom line is Montana is a big state,” he said, adding that it is proven that veterans living in rural areas don’t live as long as veterans in urban areas.