Missed Opportunities In The Farm Bill Fracas

On Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the 2007 Farm Bill by a margin of 231 to 191. The version of the bill that was passed included plenty of great things such as support for growers of fruits and vegetables, increased money for environmental causes like conservation and alternative fuel research, and an increase in food stamps. The last prong caused no small amount of dissent in the House, as it requires a tax increase. Several House Republicans accused Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of spoiling the bipartisan consensus on the bill with the tax increases and Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns expressed displeasure with the House’s version of the bill, saying that “there’s no need to raise taxes to deliver a good Farm Bill” and urging the Senate to remove the tax raise in their version of the Bill.

As we see it, however, all this fuss over raising taxes pulls focus away from the real issue (and to our mind, scandal) of the House’s version of the Farm Bill: Congress’ failure to curtail the insanely large subsidies received by growers of the “big five” crops: soy, corn, cotton, wheat, and rice. Despite widespread opposition to the subsidies among groups as diverse as the Bush administration and Environmental Defense, the House’s bill maintained the status quo with regard to subsidies, rejecting (309 to 117) an amendment proposed by Representative Ron Kind, Democrat of Wisconsin, that would have ended government payments to farmers making over $250,000 per year. Other than the sheer outrageousness of folks with six figure incomes receiving government assistance, the subsidies are bad news for reasons we’ve discussed before: namely, that subsidizing crops that can be easily manipulated into processed foods creates a glut of cheap, wildly unhealthy foods while making unprocessed “whole” foods overly expensive. Additionally, we’re not economists or anything, but it kind of seems to us like if subsidies were curbed, money could be freed up for food stamps and other programs without raising taxes, no?

So, if opposition to the subsidies was so strong, why are they still in the bill? Politics, as usual. Turns out there are a lot of freshman Representatives from rural districts and House leadership was worried about re-election prospects for those voting against subsidies. No matter what your personal views about Democrats retaining control over the House may be, it seems a shame that an opportunity for reform was passed over because of purely political concerns.

The Farm Bill will now go on ice while Congress recesses before being considered by the Senate in the fall. The Bush administration has said it would veto the bill in its current form, so expect a showdown when the bill hits the Senate. We, for one, are looking forward to it.

House Passes Farm Bill, Expanding Food Stamps [New York Times]
Final Vote Results for Roll Call 756 [U.S. House of Representatives]
Farm Subsidies Seem Immune to an Overhaul [New York Times]
Final Vote Results for Roll Call 747 [US House of Representatives]

[Photo: St. Louis County]

Missed Opportunities In The Farm Bill Fracas