Many producers of the most subsidized crops entered fields this spring not knowing at what level the government would rig the financial safety net. It appears, though, Congress and the administration are about to enact a farm bill that will maintain programs and policies that have been broadly criticized as too expensive and the cause of economic dislocation in Rural America. Promises of ambitious reforms and a greener approach to American farm policy gave way to practical politics, conducted largely in a joint House-Senate conference committee.
Its most vocal critics condemned it … the White House pledged reluctant support for it … the Europeans, Canadians and Brazilians denounced it … and two of its own authors renounced it.
Presiding Speaker: "The yeas are 280, the nays 141; the farm bill is agreed to…"
Even with mounting opposition or, at best, tepid support … the House this week approved a 10-year, $180-billion program that boosts spending by 70 percent. The program sharply increases subsidies to grain and cotton farmers … and provides new spending for everything from milk and honey, to lentils and wool.
The compromise bill, which emerged from conference committee late last week, dropped controversial items proposed in the Senate version of the legislation, including a ban on meatpacker ownership of livestock … and a $275,000-per-farm limitation on subsidy payments.
The bill's most vocal critics claim the new policy will provide an even larger share of program payments to the nation's biggest farms. The Nebraska-based Center for Rural Affairs said the legislation would "work to destroy family farming."
Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa: "This farm bill is going to hasten the demise of the family farm."
Rep. Nick Smith, R-Michigan: "It's going to hurt our chances to have a legitimate federal farm policy that helps the average farmer."
Foreign governments lambasted the bill's substantial increases in program payments as a violation of subsidy limits set forth under World Trade Organization agreements. A spokesman for the European Union said the U.S. is increasing trade tension with its new farm policy.
Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio: "At this point I'd like to talk about the overall and overriding reason why I'm in opposition to the bill."
Two conference committee members who favor a more market-oriented approach to farm policy voted against the bill when it reached the House floor. In a statement, they labeled the legislation "a giant step backward in federal agricultural policy."
And, the White House, in an apparent reversal of earlier sentiment, indicated the president would sign the bill when it reached his desk. Last fall, the administration called for reform in the nation's farm policy to stop federal programs from stimulating excess production, inflating land rents, and benefiting a relatively small number of large landowners.