Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

Franken speaks at MFU banquet

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 12/06/2012 2:40 PM

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MINNEAPOLIS --- Sen. Al Franken is optimistic the farm bill will be passed in the lame duck session of Congress.

Franken spoke at the 71st annual Minnesota Farmers Union banquet on Nov. 17.

He talked of visiting farms across the state where he learns from farmers. He visited the Jostock farm in southeast Minnesota, where they raise hogs and crops and milk cows; and more recently, the Roger and Karen Strom farm near Dawson, where he met their 12-year-old grandson, Braxton, who gave the senator a farmyard tour by tractor.

"I've met so many wonderful people of all ages," Franken said.

He said it's important to help beginning farmers, like the Strom's grandson, which can be accomplished through the farm bill.

Franken, who is not on the agriculture committee, did author legislation that is included in the Senate version of the bill. His legislation, called the Renewable Energy for America Program, would provide grants and loans to rural areas for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. Blender pumps would be funded under this legislation. The program has been around for a while and is used most by Minnesota and Iowa, he said.

Franken said it's likely that direct payments will go away in the new farm bill.

The bill passed the Senate in June and the House agriculture committee, but it was never brought up for a vote in the full Senate.

The Senate bill eliminates direct payments and cuts $23 billion over its five-year life.

Senators and House members also need to find a solution to the nation's budget conundrum before the nation slides off the fiscal cliff or fiscal slope, as some are calling the mix of tax increases and budget cuts due to take effect Dec. 31. The cuts and tax increases are the result of a budget deal reached to avoid a government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling.

Franken downplayed the significance of having to act right away, saying Congress could pass something in February and make it retroactive to the first of the year.

The big question is what is going to happen in terms of taxes, he said.

Franken also offered a remembrance of state Sen. Gary Kubly, DFL-Granite Falls, who often offered a prayer at MFU banquets. This year's banquet was the first since Kubly died in March, after losing his battle with Lou Gehring's disease.

Kubly's depth of faith informed every word he uttered, Franken said. He had a soul of integrity.