In ordinary times, public interest groups have a fairly free hand to advocate for all good things. A better environment. Less government waste. More nutrition. Lower taxes, perhaps.
At crunch time, by contrast, they must make difficult decisions. The priorities of public interest groups as the Farm Bill finally reaches the floor of the House of Representatives are telling. Let's take a look at their websites today.
A wide range of public interest groups oppose the bill passed by the House Agriculture Committee, saying it does not reflect reform. Several of these are pressing hard for adoption of the bi-partisan Kind-Flake "Fairness" amendment, which would limit payments to wealthy farmers and re-allocate a fraction of current row-crop subsidies toward environmental and nutrition priorities, while also reducing the federal deficit. The faith-based anti-hunger group Bread for the World goes all out, with suggestions for letters to legislators and a personal video appeal by the group's president David Beckmann. Oxfam America likewise puts support for this amendment on the front page. The Environmental Working Group and Environmental Defense support the Kind-Flake amendment.
Others, including the Food Research and Action Center, the leading national advocate for nutrition assistance programs, support passage of the Farm Bill without mentioning support for this amendment (that I could find). The front-page alert on FRAC's website points out that House Rules Committee member Jim McGovern (D-MA) has apparently won some funding successes for food assistance programs late in the process, and now supports the House Agriculture Committee's bill. Changes to the rules for debate are described as threats, because the amendments permitted for consideration under the rules recommended by the Rules Committee do not threaten the nutrition programs. FRAC encourages supporters to write legislators and ask them to resist amendments that would harm the prospects of the nutrition program funding, without listing particular amendments to oppose.
Although it might seem perhaps a parochial concern, in a Farm Bill costing many tens of billions of dollars, the Community Food Security Coalition website has a top-of-the-front-page appeal to make sure that $5 million in community food project funding is mandatory rather than discretionary.
As of 5:30 pm, Farm Bill debate on CSPAN is just starting.