Friday, May 16, 2008

House and Senate pass Farm Bill

The House of Representatives this week passed the post-conference version of the Farm Bill by a veto-proof majority, after Republicans abandoned the White House position. The Senate also passed the bill on Thursday.

In a conference call with bloggers and public interest groups on Wednesday, White House official Barry Jackson said:
This bill is $20 billion over budget, not paid for, and full of accounting gimmicks and time shifts in payments... This is not in the best interest of American Agriculture. This is not in the best interest of American taxpayers. Congress can do better than this.... This Farm Bill deserves to be vetoed, and the President will veto it.
Deputy Agriculture Secretary Chuck Conner pointed out that, with current high commodity prices, farm incomes are higher than ever in recent years, so one could reduce trade-distorting subsidies without impoverishing farmers: "Now is as good a time as any for some of these reforms."

Because the Farm Bill's political support depends in part on anti-hunger and environmental groups, who might otherwise have been in favor of stronger reform to traditional row-crop subsidies, the bill includes some new funding for food assistance programs, new money for fruit and vegetable growers, some gains for the CSP conservation program, and small amounts of additional funds for some sustainable agriculture priorities.

I asked Deputy Secretary Conner whether these anti-hunger and sustainable agriculture priorities would be jeopardized if public interest groups tacitly supported a White House veto of the House-passed Farm Bill. He responded that the administration's concern is with the growth in total funding in the bill, and with the lack of reform to subsidies for rich farmers, not with specific anti-hunger or sustainable agriculture provisions. The administration would support the bill if Congress revised the row-crop subsidies by reducing trade-distorting price supports and capping payments to rich farmers, for example, while retaining the anti-hunger and environmental provisions.

Here is the summary by Ken Cook in the Environmental Working Group's Mulch blog:
[T]his farm bill could have gone far beyond the miserly spending increases it provides for nutrition assistance to the poor at home and abroad, conservation, farmers markets, organic food, minority farmers and other important priorities that have long been neglected or under-funded. And there would have been money left over to give taxpayers a break.

Apparently the Democratic caucus thought they were log rolling when the subsidy lobby tossed them some twigs.

In a period when crop prices and farm incomes are soaring to record levels, the continuation of bloated subsidies to the largest, most prosperous farms in the country can only be seen as a breathtaking cop-out on the part of congressional leaders.


Jen said...

There are so many other needs right now in American agriculture that cutting subsidies to rich farmers is the right thing to do. Our food assistance programs will be growing by leaps and bounds if the current price of food continues to rise. America's hungry will need support, not the farmers who are driving food prices higher to take advantage of the run to biofuel.

Kurt Lawton said...

Yes, it's far from a perfect bill. Yes there are loopholes that allow larger farmers to gain greater gov't pmts. It is slowly correcting that.

One thing missing by most bloggers, critics, etc, are facts...for example, the subsidies to farmers comprise only 14% of this bill. See this AP story...

Glance: A cost breakdown of farm bill programs
By The Associated Press

Domestic nutrition programs make up the largest portion of the estimated $300 billion farm bill. Crop subsidies make up roughly 14 percent, foreign food aid less than 1 percent.

A breakdown of the bill:

_ Food stamps and other domestic nutrition programs such as emergency food assistance: just over 66 percent, about $200 billion.

_ Subsidies for rice, cotton, corn, soybeans, wheat and other crops: 14 percent, around $43 billion.

_ Conservation programs to set aside or protect environmentally sensitive farmland: 9 percent, about $27 billion.

_ Crop insurance to help farmers protect against losses: 8 percent, about $23 billion.

_ Foreign food aid would make up less than 1 percent of the bill, costing less than $200 million. The bulk of international food assistance is in annual appropriations bills.


Couple other points that are often made by the ill-informed that touch a raw nerve...
1. It's the price of oil that is driving up food prices, not ethanol subsidies.
2. Many if not most family farms today ARE corporate farms.

And for those wanting to continue to complain about the farm about Iraq, where our government is spending $1.3 TRILLON...and the war has boosted the cost of oil from $25 in 2003 to $125 per barrel today. And the war adds $120 Billion to the national debt every year. And for what??!!

And that doesn't account for the Mideast oil we buy that funds the war against us. Hmmmm. Quite an administration we have in office!

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