The U.S. House of Representatives expects to act next week on

CATEGORY: EDT Editorials

AUTHOR: JOER

The U.S. House of Representatives expects to act next week on a farm bill containing dairy-industry legislation that could cause milk prices to rise as much as 40 cents per gallon.

The bill, HR 2854, is set for a vote Tuesday on a rule that would prohibit amendments and shut off debate. The rule, if it passes, means those opposed to potentially costly provisions would not be given a chance to change or oppose the legislation before it gets to the floor for a vote by the full House, probably next Thursday.

Organizations representing the dairy products industry beyond the level of farm production cite four reasons that consumers could be billed an extra $2.5 billion a year for dairy products:

– Price supports for fluid milk products would be set at January, 1996 levels, the highest in five years;

– Processors would be required to add milk solids to fluid milk in the name of nutrition but without significant nutritive benefits or taste improvements;

– Taxes would be increased on popular imported dairy products like cheese, while continuing price supports and complex regulations for domestic cheese; and

– Farmers would be encouraged to “dump” butter and cheese in export markets, decreasing domestic supplies and driving up consumer prices.

The dairy provisions fight has split the special-interest lobby in the dairy products industry, but the issue is far more important than a dispute among lobbyists.

The average price of a gallon of milk (three stories-two chain-operated and one locally-owned) Thursday in Tupelo was $2.46. A 40-cent per gallon increase would drive that average price to $2.86 per gallon a 16 percent increase. That’s about eight times the inflation rate for 1995. A family with several children easily consumers four or five gallons of milk per week. A 40-cents-per-gallon price increase could mean $100 or more per year in increased costs.

Consumers probably won’t be surprised to know that the dairy provisions’ strongest backer is a Wisconsin Republican congressman, Rep. Steve Gunderson, who has politically important ties to that state’s influential dairy industry. The 1994 edition of Politics in America notes that Gunderson’s 3rd District has more cows than people and stands at the “head of the herd” in the heartland of dairy farming. The Gunderson proposal is an enriched and fortified version the dairy support system.

Congress has obligations to farmers, the dairy products industry and to consumers. The Gunderson proposals appears to lack balance and fairness. His plan tilts too much toward farmers and too little toward consumers, also known as the taxpayers who pay the federal government’s bills.

Nobody, in fainress, can want Congress to jerk the rug from under America’s farmers. Price supports with all their complexities and regulations continue to serve a useful purpose in productivity, processing and consumption. Excess butterfat in legislation, however, is dipped from the same barrel as congressional pork.

We hope 1st District Rep. Roger Wicker of Mississippi and all others in the Mississippi House delegation look carefully at the Gunderson plan and try to open it for amendment and debate before the House is forced to vote the whole farm bill up or down.

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