By BILL SHEA
Messenger staff writer
Direct payments to growers would be eliminated, but the crop insurance program would remain ''pretty much like it is,'' under the farm bill now before the U.S. Senate, Sen. Charles Grassley told a Fort Dodge audience Tuesday morning.
Grassley, a Republican, also reported that ethanol is now under attack by an ''unholy allegiance'' of oil companies, food producers and environmentalists.
His town hall meeting at the Webster County Extension office in the Crossroads Mall was intended to be about the legislation that spells out the federal government's agriculture programs and policies. However, the senator also answered questions about immigration, voter identification laws and President Barack Obama's birth certificate.
About 40 people attended.
Grassley is a member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, which recently passed the farm bill and sent it to the full Senate for consideration.
The bill, he said, would save $23 billion over a decade.
If the bill passes, he said, ''we will be the only program and the only committee of the Congress that's done anything to save money.''
According to Grassley, these are the major provisions of the bill:
Although it's commonly called the farm bill, the legislation also includes the federal food and nutrition programs. Grassley said about 80 percent of the bill is about food programs.
After the meeting, Grassley said the bill would save about $4 billion over 10 years in the food stamp program by eliminating loopholes that 16 states have used to increase benefits for their citizens.
A vote on the bill hasn't been scheduled yet.
Growth in the ethanol industry has led to higher corn prices for farmers, but Grassley said the renewable fuel faces unprecedented opposition.
''For 30 years, until last summer, nobody questioned the value of ethanol,'' he said. ''It's good for agriculture. It's good for the environment. It's good for jobs in rural America. The only thing we had to fight for those 30 years was Big Oil. They didn't want you using anything they don't control. Then they were joined by Big Food - Kellogg's, Hormel, all those people. They said we were driving up the price of food.''
''The Big Food industry wanted an excuse in 2008 to raise the price of food so they joined Big Oil,'' he added.
He said the environmentalists who want to shift the focus onto wind and other sources of renewable energy joined the ethanol opposition.
None of those groups, he said, has acknowledged that farmers are growing more corn to meet the demand.
When asked about immigration policy, Grassley replied that it would be possible to get bipartisan agreement on expanding the Border Patrol, finishing the fence between the United States and Mexico, and implementing an electronic system to verify that people are eligible to work in this country.
He said the possibility of amnesty for illegal immigrants now in the country separates the two parties.
''Most Republicans will not vote for a bill that has amnesty in it, and Democrats want amnesty,'' he said.
Jack Ulicki, of Fort Dodge, told Grassley that he thinks it should be mandatory for people show their identification before voting. He asked why there isn't a law to that effect.
''The people that are fighting it fear that fewer people will vote Democratic,'' Grassley said.
He added that election laws are left to the states, so Congress isn't likely to act on the issue.
Ongoing doubts about President Barack Obama's birth certificate were also voiced at the meeting.
''It seems to me that is enough to really question his loyalty, his performance and what he's about,'' said Win Touney, of Fort Dodge.
Grassley said the birth certificate issue has been considered in some courts.
''I have to respect the judges that said they've looked at it and found that it's not an issue,'' he said.
Contact Bill Shea at (515 573-2141 or firstname.lastname@example.org