Dan Morgan of the Washington Post reports on the legislative passage of a 5-year US Farm Bill, with a sufficient majority in the House of Representatives (318:106) to override any Presidential veto. President Bush had previously threatened a veto unless the Farm Bill would set a new upper limit on the size of subsidy payments and avoid raising any new taxes. He looks to have been outmaneuvered.
Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer released a statement saying the vote “sends the wrong message to the rest of the country who are not experiencing the boom of the agriculture sector,” and, “This bill is loaded with taxpayer funded pet projects at a time when Americans are struggling to buy groceries and afford gas to get to work.”
Keith Good of the excellent website farmpolicy.com has served up a couple of audio clips featuring leading Congressional figures giving their perspectives. The first features members of the House:[audio:http://farmpolicy.typepad.com/farmpolicy/files/HousePassesConferenceAgreement08May14.mp3]
The second features members of the Senate, and it’s interesting to note that both Senators reference EU farm policy in their comments:[audio:http://farmpolicy.typepad.com/farmpolicy/files/SenConfDebateHarkinConradEUPolicyNoted08May14.mp3]
Ken Cook, of the Environmental Working Group, one of the most dynamic members of the pro-reform alliance, pulls no punches in his criticism of how the House Democrats sold out to the subsidy lobby:
Democrats are supposed to stand on principles of fairness and equity, not sell them. And today they sold them on the cheap.
If the House had displayed even a modicum of political courage and taken on the subsidy lobby, this 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.
I certainly hope that this is not a taste of what’s to come over here in Europe when the European Parliament gets co-decision powers over agriculture policy under the Lisbon Treaty. The Agriculture Committee of the European Parliament is currently stuffed with farmers, ex-farmers and other assorted pork-barrel merchants. It is the last group of people you’d want to be making agriculture and food policy. There are of course elections to the EP between now and then, but it will be very interesting to see if the composition of the Agriculture Committee will change when it’s powers are increased, as has been argued by Jon Worth among others.