Farm Bill likely to get even worse in conference

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The 2012 Farm Bill got through the U.S. Senate and is, or is about to be, in conference committee with the House, where it will presumably only get worse.

The Senate bill got $4 billion in savings from food stamps, $6.4 billion in savings from environmental conservation programs and nearly $20 billion by eliminating direct cash payments and price supports for farmers. But some of the savings was offset with $5 billion in spending on a new crop insurance program to protect “shallow losses.”

Similar cuts to conservation programs are expected in the House, but (House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank) Lucas (R-OK) is looking for even bigger cuts to food stamps.

Contrary to the stereotype, farmers themselves are mostly big fans of conservation programs.

Now, why do you suppose that conservatives would see cuts to food stamps as a good idea?  Part of it likely has to do with appealing to the base, although:

Of course, there is one big problem with the racial code word GOP war on food stamps — and it’s a big problem for the racial hog callers: whites outnumber blacks on food stamps. And whites outnumber blacks on welfare by about a 2 – 1 margin. So what the Republicans are engaged in with their latest farm bill attack on food stamps is not even just racial coding; it’s just plain racist, because it’s an appeal to the basest instincts of white voters while white voters benefit from food stamps (and welfare) more than blacks.

This is a solid compendium of additional information. (You may have to scroll down a bit, to get to the correct article;  it’s the one with the photo of Debbie Stabenow.)

And yet, as dismal as the Senate’s farm bill is, it could have been much worse. A flurry of amendments-the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has a good rundown here are here-improved the bill at the margins. For example, the Senate ag leadership had tried to push the bill through without “conservation compliance” provisions to subsidized crop insurance. That would have allowed farmers to plow up fallow, environmentally fragile land for crops, and cash in on taxpayer-subsidized insurance policies if the crops failed. Importantly, in an amendment that squeaked by Wednesday by a vote of 52-47, farmers utilizing subsidized crop insurance will have to agree to basic conservation measures.

I’m just noting a few specific items:

  • The 2501 program, which seeks to help minority farmers, is at risk.  (I’m having a hard time pinning down exactly where that’s at, right now;  I believe that some money was restored, subsequent to the date of the linked article.) Attacks on that program also relate to the “racial hog callers” referenced above;  Minnesota’s own “Crazy” Michele Bachmann weighed in on it, a while back.
  • Shameful assaults on clean water got beat down.  They’ll probably rise again, sooner or later.
  • Big Sugar, including Minnesota’s beet industry, won big. (Rice and peanut producers in the South, on the other hand, didn’t, and they’re looking to get their own back.)

Sugar beet farmers are not poor by any means. They reap profits in good crop years and in bad. And they always get taxpayer help even though there is little evidence it is needed…

This program defies the odds. It gets liberal help despite being a poster child of corporate welfare. It gets conservative help despite setting its own trade policy and gets benefits from price fixing.

Several attempts to modify this program were consistently beaten back in the just passed farm bill…..the subsidies continue.

While it’s ultimately up to the individual – me, for example – to include fewer fattening, unhealthy, and often just plain gross processed sugar concoctions in his or her diet, continuing to glut the food supply side with their basic ingredient isn’t good for anyone, unless “anyone” is defined entirely in terms of Big Ag’s bottom line.