By Frederic J. Frommer, Associated Press
Sen. Amy Klobuchar conceded she faces a tall order in winning Senate approval of her proposal to bar farmers making more than $750,000 from receiving government payments - but said it was an effort that should be made.
"I think it could be kind of an uphill battle," the Minnesota Democrat said in an interview Monday. "But I still think it's worth doing."
Klobuchar's amendment would allow payments only to full-time farmers making less than $750,000 a year and part-time farmers making less than $250,000, after expenses. Klobuchar, who offered the amendment to the farm bill on Friday, is hoping Democrats accept it as one of their limited number of amendments.
It doesn't go quite as far as the Bush administration, which had proposed capping income at $200,000. Klobuchar said that she stopped short of that "because I was realistic about the range of things we would be able to get through the bill."
She said she based the numbers in part on language in the House version of the farm bill, which sets the income limits at $1 million for a full-time farmer and $500,000 for a part-time farmer.
Rep. Collin Peterson, a Minnesota Democrat who chairs the House Agriculture Committee, said that was as far as he could get southern House members to accept.
Speaking of Klobuchar's amendment, he said, "Obviously, it won't be easy."
But Peterson, who crafted the House bill, said he thinks the income limit could get lowered below $1 million, and that $750,000 "is in the ballpark."
"A lot depends on what the Senate does," he said. "If they reject it, there's a lot less pressure to do anything."
Any differences between the farm bills in the different chambers will be reconciled by House and Senate negotiators.
On Friday, the ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, took to the Senate floor to speak against Klobuchar's amendment. He said that the farm bill already includes a provision that reduces the income level for determining program eligibility by 70 percent over two years.
Lawmakers from the South historically have been among the most aggressive defenders of commodity payments, arguing that the region's major cash crops such as rice and cotton are expensive to grow and therefore particularly vulnerable without a government safety net.
"Some of the southern people don't like it," Klobuchar said, "and people don't like change."
Klobuchar said her main focus will be ensuring that the farm bill remain on track and come up for a vote, adding that the 2002 farm bill has been good for rural Minnesota.
"I just think we need to continue that strong farm bill that has worked so well for our state as a whole," she said.