Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Farm Bill update

The Senate is debating the 2012 Farm Bill, which reauthorizes agriculture, conservation, and nutrition assistance programs for another five years. You can read coverage at Politico, the Washington Post, the Food Politics blog, and Roll Call.

Overall, the Farm Bill is likely to save some taxpayer money by replacing some agricultural subsidies with new crop insurance programs.  These government subsidized crop insurance programs are likely to cover "shallow losses" -- comparatively modest losses that don't meet the threshold for serious losses already covered.  These new crop insurance subsidies may be a little less expensive than the crop subsidies they replace, but they still reflect the agriculture industry's capture of legislators, who can be persuaded to do the industry's bidding, rather than representing sound policy.

Senate leaders agreed to consider a list of 73 amendments. You can follow the specific votes on the Senate website. If I understand correctly, an amendment to approve a compromise between the egg industry and animal welfare organizations regarding treatment of chickens was not on the list of amendments for consideration, perhaps because it was blocked by hardliners in other meat industries who oppose such compromises. An amendment to protect the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program from medium-sized cuts failed (it would have saved the money by reining in the new crop insurance subsidies). An amendment to limit the size of payments in a marketing loan subsidy program passed.

The DeMint amendment that I discussed recently failed. DeMint (R-SC) noted that checkoff programs claim to have enthusiastic support from producers. If this were true, surely a voluntary contribution would be sufficient, right? Yet, only 20 Senators, all Republicans, backed DeMint's effort to make the contributions voluntary. My skeptical view of checkoff programs seems to have more friends at the Heritage Foundation than among the progressive Senators who ought to speak up for good governance and a coherent federal government message on this public health issue.

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