Late last night, the thought occurred to us, “whatever happened to the Farm Bill, that critical and enormous piece of legislation ($286 billion enormous) that determines how America produces and eats food (and energy commodities) for the next five years?” Yes, that’s exactly the thought we had, verbatim, parentheticals included.
In fact, it was auspicious timing, because just yesterday, President Bush warned “I’m confident we can come together to get a good farm bill, but if Congress sends me legislation that raises taxes or does not make needed reforms, I’m going to veto it.” How sporting of him! The fact is, there really aren’t too many glaring differences between the Farm Bills as envisaged by the House, the Senate, and the Administration, but that hasn’t done much to quell the bickering. Most of the struggle, at this point, seems to be over esoteric (for non-farmers) rules about subsidy disbursement limits, small farm corporate structures, and crop definitions. What Democrats call “ending tax loopholes,” Republicans call “raising taxes” - you know, the old story. And don’t even get us started on the three-entity rule!
As an example of the relevant arcana, one of the Administration’s goals is to “include dairy, peanut, honey, wool and mohair payments into the de facto $360,000 a year limit rather than allowing separate counting of them.” Mohair, of all things! Wikipedia tells us that “the word ‘mohair’ was adopted into English before 1570 from the Arabic mukhayyar, a type of haircloth, literally ‘choice’, from khayyara, ‘he chose’.” See, researching the Farm Bill invites deep plunges down the rabbit hole, and we apologize.
Lest we forget the important stuff! The Farm Bill, as it stands, has clauses about increasing fruit and vegetable subsidies and food stamp allowances, and maybe some more ethanol subsidies, why not. Why not? Perhaps because of the biofuels creating more greenhouse gases than fossil fuels when all processing and transport is taken into account thing. Eep! We haven’t heard anything good about ethanol from credible sources for over a year now. Meanwhile, this helpful article in the Daily Astorian (Oregon) points out that both Obama and Clinton support ethanol subsidies, while McCain does not. Food for thought.
But wait, there’s so much more. The Farm Bill also addresses the issue of competitive livestock markets; Mabel Dobbs writes that “in the early 20th Century when five packers controlled over 75 percent of beef slaughter [while] today, four companies control 83 percent of the cattle slaughtered in this country.” The “Livestock Title,” as it’s called, would open up the meatpacking market by permitting interstate shipping for smaller producers, and it would also call for country-of-origin labels on meat. The Livestock Title is in the House version of the bill, but not the Senate.
Here’s something we didn’t know about: the USDA was sued for discriminating against black farmers in the 1980s and 1990s, and both versions of the Farm Bill contain provisions for a $100 million fund to pay the farmers that didn’t participate in the evocatively-named Pigford lawsuit of 1999. That must have been one hell of a lawsuit!
And on an even more niche front, the American Horse Council is lobbying the House to include provisions that “make horse breeders eligible for emergency federal loans following a disaster by including ‘equine farmers and ranchers’ within the class of eligible producers.” The Senate already has such a provision, probably by way of whiny horse-riding Senator daughters. Are we allowed to say that?
So you see why Congress is having trouble nailing this thing down. Everyone wants a piece of the action, and everyone wants everything to change, and everyone wants everything to stay the same. It seems like Congress and the Administration are coming close to a deal (if the writers’ strike can be resolved, anything can be resolved), but if they don’t finalize it by March 15th, the permanent statutes from 1949 would take effect, with all hell breaking loose as a result (having a lot to do with soybeans and the environment). Five weeks, or we’re bacon!
Bush Says He Might Veto Farm Bill [AP]
Farm subsidy reform is farm bill issue [Reuters]
Biofuels Deemed a Greenhouse Threat [NYTimes]
Journalist warns of implications of farm bill for rural America [The Daily Astorian]
Farm Bill Seeks Fairer Markets [KCCommunityNews]
Farm bill could aid black farmers [inRich]
American Horse Council Seeking Support for the Senate Farm Bill [USEF]
[Photo: Ludwig Von Mises Institute (sweet)]