The sponsor of a controversial restriction on lamb imports in the Senate’s pending trade bill owns stock in a family ranch that has more than 6,000 sheep, it was learned Tuesday.
Senate records show that Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) derives income from the ranch outside Helena, Mont., but he did not mention it to Finance Committee colleagues when his lamb amendment was adopted last month, 11 to 8.
“I just don’t see it as a conflict whatsoever,” Baucus said in an interview when asked about the financial interest. “I’ve never been involved in the ranch. My folks keep it because it’s a way of life for them. I represent a sheep-producing state and that’s why I offered the amendment.”
Although Baucus contended that the family ranch “doesn’t make any money,” he recently reported on his congressional financial disclosure statement receiving between $5,000 and $15,000 in dividends last year from ranch stock valued at more than $250,000.
Baucus acknowledged that, having been asked about the matter, there was “an appearance problem” and that he “probably should have” informed colleagues of his economic connection to the amendment.
The Reagan Administration strongly opposes the measure, which Baucus said was prompted by “a flood of subsidized imports” from Australia and New Zealand. The Administration has been fighting most import quotas as unduly protectionist.
The Senate is expected to take up a comprehensive trade bill containing the rider next week.
Senate ethics rules prohibit a senator from promoting legislation that benefits only him or his immediate family. The prohibition would not apply to Baucus because his lamb amendment would aid all U.S. sheep producers, said Bonnie S. Parker, staff director of the Senate Ethics Committee.
“This situation is similar to senators who own farms and vote for farm subsidies,” said Baucus’ press secretary, Scott Williams. “There is absolutely no conflict.”
Senate rules require that senators disclose their financial interests once a year in a public statement that must be filed by May 15. However, senators sometimes feel compelled to inform colleagues of direct financial interest in legislation when such bills are being considered.
Baucus’ amendment would add lamb to the list of meats--beef, mutton, veal and goat--controlled by the Meat Import Act of 1979. The amendment would set a floating ceiling on lamb imports that would go up or down according to the level of domestic supply.
“This legislation does not prevent a reasonable flow of imports. But it does prevent a disastrous flood of imports from destroying the U.S. lamb market,” Baucus asserted in introducing the legislation in April with the support of several western senators. He estimated that lamb imports could increase by 66% this year over last.
In Senate Finance Committee debate on the amendment, Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) and seven Republicans opposed it on grounds that it was too parochial.
The Administration objects to the measure because “we are opposed in principle to the concept of quotas,” said Gary Holmes, a spokesman for U.S. Trade Representative Clayton K. Yeutter.
Embassy officials from Australia and New Zealand are mounting strong efforts to kill the amendment.
“Rather than imposing restrictions, the domestic lamb industry should look at ways of expanding the domestic market,” said David Kininmonth, commercial minister with the New Zealand Embassy here. “The industry is enjoying record prices. They’re selling every pound they produce.”
Pushing Beef Exports
While Baucus is battling against lamb imports, he is also serving as leader of the Congressional Beef Caucus, which is pressuring Japan to import more U.S. beef. The senator said that his family’s ranch has “several hundred” head of cattle in addition to 6,000 or 7,000 sheep.
“New Zealand subsidizes its lamb production and the U.S. does not,” he said. “Japan subsidizes its cattle production and the U.S. does not. It’s not fair.”
Baucus said that the lamb amendment was proposed by the Wool Producers Assn. A senator since 1978 after previously serving in the House, he said he has often rejected the group’s proposals in the past, saying: “You’re dead right on the merits but somebody is going to attack me.” This time, though, he explained, “I just thought, ‘Oh, what the heck. You know, they’re right.’ ”