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Some Farmers Uneasy About Tax Plan

September 19, 1998

WASHINGTON _ Tom Giessel says he’s had to pinch pennies to keep his Kansas wheat farm afloat and needs help from Congress quick. But Giessel isn’t certain a Republican-backed $3.9 billion plan unveiled last week is the answer.

``It’s kind of like giving somebody a breath mint after you eat a meal,″ said Giessel, who needed donations from his community to pay for a recent trip to Washington to lobby his lawmakers for help. ``This is a small drop in the bucket.″

Instead, the Larned, Kan., farmer says he prefers a Democratic proposal that increases government price supports.

The GOP answer ``doesn’t address the issue of low commodity prices,″ Giessel said.

Congressional Republicans introduced their plan Thursday in hopes of stemming the downward farm economy, which has been reeling from natural disasters, crop disease and low prices.

Under the GOP proposal _ expected to be part of the 1999 agricultural spending bill _ $1.5 billion would be given to farmers hit by crop losses this year; $675 million would help farmers in Minnesota and the Dakotas struggling from years of crop disease and flooding; and $75 million would go to livestock farmers who lost their feed this year.

The proposal also would provide $1.6 billion for a 29 percent increase in the annual payments farmers get each year to compensate for low prices.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Smith, R-Ore., an author of the proposal, said a ``calamity in farm country across this nation″ means, ``we have to act now.″

The Democrats have unsuccessfully pushed a $7 billion plan that includes a provision to lift limits on marketing loans for farmers and extend the terms of those loans from nine months to 15 months _ something farmers like John Diettrich of Tilden, Neb., say is crucial to any package.

Diettrich said the Republican plan would mean about $6 an acre more for the 4,000-acre corn and soybean farm he runs with his brother. An increase in the loan rates, as Senate Democrats have proposed, would mean an additional $45 per acre.

``Lifting the caps raises the prices,″ Diettrich said.

Under the Republican plan, the direct payments to farmers would in many cases be split with landlords, leaving farmers with even less, he said.

``I’m frustrated when that plan is touted by the Republicans as being a great victory in the farmers’ favor. In fact there’s very little relief in it,″ Diettrich said.

Others found some solace in the GOP plan. ``Our producers need an economic shot in the arm,″ said Larry Wooten, of the North Carolina Farm Bureau in Raleigh, N.C. ``We’re not convinced that marketing loans and those type things are going to be the answer. Our farmers need some sort of direct payment.″

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and other GOP leaders say their proposal, coupled with measures to open trade markets and offer tax relief, will mean good news for farmers.

``This package offers our agriculture producers relief while we continue to push for much-needed improvements to U.S. trade and tax policies,″ Roberts said.

But for Tom Giessel a longer wait is too much for farmers.

``It’s kind of a slap in the face when they take their produce to town and a truckload won’t pay your utilities or won’t pay your health insurance,″ Giessel said.

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