Senate Agriculture Committee members yesterday debated whether the urban-dominated Congress is ready for a second major farm bill in six months.
Sen. George McGovern (D-S.D.) said, "I think the public mood . . . has changed favorably toward the agricultural strike." The strike was called for by the Colorado-based American Agriculture group to protest low prices and federal policies.
"There is a climate developing in the country that will support [congressional] action right now." McGovern said, citing a recent Harris Survey indicating that consumers would be willing to pay 5 percent more for good to help farmers' incomes.
However, that same poll showed that a majority would not be willing to pay 10 percent more. President Carter says the group's demands could boost food prices by 20 percent.
In either case, if food pricing followed its pattern of recent years, farmers would get less than 40 cents of each dollar increase in retail prices.
But Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said that in the last two days "I have received calls of absolute, total outrage" from farmers and others in Vermont about strikers' throwing eggs and snowballs Tuesday night at Agriculture Secretary Bob Bergland in Amarillo, Tex.
One of the American Agriculture witnesses as the panel began 11 days of hearings on the farm economy, Texan George McCathern, said the Amarillo incident was "just an indication of frustration and anger in the hearts and minds of people who are seeing their homes and lands destroyed."
The farmer-lobbyists say a two-year price slump on top of heavy debts and rising production costs is forcing many out of business. They say a depression exists in the farm sector and that it will be the prelude to a general depression.