The Farm Bill ain’t real progressive

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Though it’s a big sprawling mega-bill, and nowhere near being in any final form that could get President Obama’s signature, I can summarize the proposed federal agriculture legislation, currently being moved through Congress, quite handily: there’s a lot for progressives to dislike. And “dislike” is about the weakest term one can use.

Here’s where things are at.

The Senate is expected to begin debate this week on a five-year farm and food aid bill that would save $9.3 billion by ending direct payments to farmers and replacing them with subsidized insurance programs for when the weather turns bad or prices go south.

The details are still to be worked out. But there’s rare agreement that fixed annual subsidies of $5 billion a year for farmers are no longer feasible in this age of tight budgets and when farmers in general are enjoying record prosperity.

About 80 percent of the bill’s half-trillion-dollar cost over the next five years represents nutrition programs, primarily food stamps now going to some 46 million people. About $100 billion would be devoted to crop subsidies and other farm programs…

Getting a bill to the president’s desk will be a challenge. Most of the bill’s spending is on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, at an annual cost now of about $75 billion. The Republican-led House is looking for greater cuts to this program than the Democratic Senate will accept.

More below, beginning with what a group of prominent progressives has to say.

This is from a letter delivered to Congress. One suspects that all but a handful of the members of that august body didn’t pay much attention; corporate ag has the big bucks, after all. And going after the weak and defenseless is very much in style, these days.

Unfortunately, the Senate bill falls far short of the reforms needed to come to grips with the nation’s critical food and farming challenges. It is also seriously out of step with the nation’s priorities and what the American public expects and wants from our food and farm policy. In a national poll last year, 78 percent said making nutritious and healthy foods more affordable and accessible should be a top priority in the farm bill. Members of the U.S. Council of Mayors and the National League of Cities have both echoed this sentiment in recent statements calling for a healthy food and farm bill.

Although the committee proposal includes important reforms to the commodity title, we are deeply concerned that it would continue to give away subsidies worth tens of billions of taxpayer dollars to the largest commodity crop growers, insurance companies, and agribusinesses even as it drastically underfunds programs to promote the health and food security of all Americans, invest in beginning and disadvantaged farmers, revitalize local food economies and protect natural resources. We strongly object to any cuts in food assistance during such dire times for so many Americans. These critical shortcomings must be addressed when the bill goes to the Senate floor.

Here’s more on SNAP, i.e. food stamps.

Converting SNAP to a block grant, as some have proposed, would largely destroy its ability to respond to rising need during future recessions, forcing states to cut benefits or create waiting lists for needy families.

We already know where so many of our elected officials are at, when it comes to the ability to comprehend even a basic apprehension of scientific reality, so this is absolutely no surprise.

This acknowledgement of increased risk for agriculture has not, however, been coupled with any specific acknowledgement of its primary cause-climate change-or of farmers’ need to take steps to make their cropping systems more resilient to extreme weather. Yet such adaptive measures are not being talked about in the current Farm Bill debate. Creating a federal crop insurance system with no limits on federal outlays without simultaneously giving farmers the tools to adapt to the effects of climate change is incredibly irresponsible from both a food security and fiscal perspective. It’s like offering a home owner a fire insurance policy, but not even requiring the most basic preventative measures, such as smoke alarms or fire extinguishers.

And then there’s the nation’s #1 health problem.

There are a lot of reasons – chemical, psychological, environmental – for why people are obese. But explaining societal obesity means looking at what the food system is providing for us to eat – and how government policies might promote certain foods over others.

“In the political arena, one side is winning the war on child obesity,” a new Reuters report on the food lobby begins. “The side with the fattest wallets.”

This blog post just hits the basics. We don’t have to resign ourselves to another boondoggle for corporate greedheads and environmental devastators, and political bashers of the poor that nevertheless have the gall to claim to be “caring Christians.” It can be useful, just to let people know what is really going on.