Daschle happy that farm bill will benefit state U.S. Senator Tom Daschle meets with a University of South Dakota student late Thursday afternoon in the Lakota Dining Hall of the university's student center. Daschle was in Vermillion to visit with students and faculty. by David Lias Sen. Tom Daschle said Thursday that he is happy that Congress was able to pass to a substantive farm bill for now.
He added, however, that lawmakers need to enact a Freedom to Farm Act to truly help those in South Dakota and other states who make their living from the land.
Daschle was in Vermillion Thursday afternoon, meeting with students and faculty members in the student center cafeteria.
"The legislation that we just enacted has a very short time frame. The time frame is only one fiscal year," he said.
In that one year, Congress will be providing disaster assistance totaling about $7 billion. Daschle noted that $6 billion of the assistance will be direct funding through disaster payment relief, with $1 billion in tax changes that will probably remain permanent.
"These tax changes include income averaging, taking the highs and lows of your income and averaging them out for tax purposes," he said, "and accelerating the deductibility of health insurance premiums for farmers."
Daschle said the Republican-controlled Congress had originally indicated it would pass a $4 billion farm bill. Daschle said he encouraged the president to veto such a measure, and Congress came back with a $6 billion farm bill. "That's about $100 million more for South Dakota, and a total of about $300 million in assistance in various forms to South Dakota farmers to be distributed within the next three months," Daschle said. "So between now and the end of the year, most farmers will receive very significant levels of assistance in two forms: transition payments and disaster payments."
He added that the crux of the problem for farmers in South Dakota and across the nation is the failure to enact a Freedom to Farm Act.
"We still have to deal with that next year, and come up with a mechanism that will not be so government-payment reliant, which is what we are doing right now," Daschle said. "We are providing $6 billion in government payments. I'd much rather have farmers derive their incomes from the marketplace than the government, and we need to come up with a mechanism to allow that to happen."
He added that the federal government needs to examine "some serious access problems that we have with foreign countries, especially Canada, right now. Last year, the United States imported 1.3 million head of cattle and we only exported 40,000."
Daschle said if there was truly an open market in both directions between the U.S. and Canada, he didn't think the trade imbalance would be so stark.
"I believe that, while it's hard to put your finger on what it is that's keeping the market from flowing in both directions more effectively, something is happening when numbers like that occur in any given year," he said.
Status quo desired
After months of investigating President Clinton and the call for impeachment hearings in the House of Representatives following the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Daschle said the American people are beginning to tire of having Congress' attention diverted from the nation's business.
"The American people are tired of the drawn out and unnecessarily expensive degree of minutiae that which has been forced upon them by this whole matter," he said. "I think to a large extent, their frustration and their impatience is becoming one factor in campaigns in certain parts of the country. Candidates are actually running now on the impeachment vote, and are doing reasonably well in those areas where congressman voted for an unlimited and wide open investigation."
Daschle said that Congress, when it returns to Washington to begin a new session next year, must come to grips with how to get the Clinton scandal behind them.
"We need to be able to say, 'Look, this has gone on long enough. Let's decide on a punishment.' There will be punishment," Daschle said. "Let's decide what the most appropriate punishment is and go from there and try to bring this to a close.
"I think it's very likely that this will happen," he added, "and that we will meet some expeditious closure in the first quarter of next year."
Disappointed, hurt, angered
Daschle, in his role as Senate Minority Leader, has struck up a close friendship with Clinton.
He said three words sum up the president's behavior, especially after Clinton assured him earlier that the news reports about his relationship with Lewinsky were untrue.
To describe his reaction to the president's behavior, he said, he would use three words: disappointed, hurt and angered.
Daschle added that he has shared those sentiments with the president on several occasions.
He said there are two things that he has thought a good deal about as he as considered his reaction to the president's behavior, and his own circumstances as he contemplates his working relationship with Clinton.
"The first is that there has only been, I believe, one person who has been absent of sin in his lifetime, and he lived 2,000 years ago," Daschle said. "And secondly, if that is true, and I believe that is true, then we have to look at an individual in totality, not on the basis of one set of circumstances or one mistake, as egregious and hurtful as it was.
"Over time, I have found that I can deal with these circumstances more effectively with that thought in mind," he added.
Daschle said he believes that the viability of the Social Security Trust Fund, in large measure, will be determined by the degree to which we can protect those funds in the future.
"Many of us felt so strongly about this issue that we offered a constitutional amendment which fenced off Social Security as we calculated what a balanced budget was," he said. The amendment was defeated by Congress.
"But the president has said that before we decide how it is we are going to continue to work to make Social Security viable, we've at least got to fence it off now and protect it, and not use the surplus," Daschle said.
We have technically a $50 billion surplus this year, the first time in 30 years, he said.
"But, if you were to take Social Security out of the budget, you would have a $130 billion deficit," Daschle said. "So we are actually using roughly $80 billion in Social Security Trust Funds for other purposes, and I think the president is absolutely right. We have to rid ourselves of that practice."