Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., June 24, 25 or 26
Further, although many Republicans are posturing about spending cuts, many are from Congressional districts that benefit from subsidies enormously.
The Farm Bill – which also governs rural development, energy, conservation and trade programs – survived a key test vote in the House last Wednesday, when wheeling and dealing defused conflicts between ag’s many special interests, from corn and soybeans to dairy and livestock to sugar and cotton.
The House Farm Bill is HR1947 and would cost $940 billion for 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The Senate’s is S954 and would cost $955 billion over the same time. The current law passed in July 2008 and expires Sept. 30.
The House version’s cuts to overall spending and food stamps (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) would be about $4 billion a year. The Senate’s version cuts about $2.4 billion a year, including $400 million from food stamps.
But many Republicans say neither version cuts enough, that the food stamp program has doubled in cost over the last five years to almost $80 billion a year.
The House’s Farm Bill – which every Republican on the Agriculture Committee voted for – would over the next decade cut about $20 billion in food stamps alone. That means nearly 2 million people, mostly from low-income working families with kids, plus older Americans, will be hungry, and that as many as 210,000 children could lose access to free school lunches and breakfasts due to their eligibility for these being linked to their family’s food-stamp benefits.
The GOP wants to make eligibility requirements stricter for food-stamp applicants, too.
However, even though SNAP now helps feed 1 in 7 Americans, few Capitol Hill critics are connecting the ongoing effects of the 2008 financial collapse with the number of people needing help. Hurting the needy is blaming the victim.
Progressives oppose reductions in food stamps, and an amendment by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) is trying to eliminate the food-stamp cuts and take the money from farm subsidies instead.
"It's too big, it's too harsh and it's going to hurt so many people," McGovern said. “We’re not going after big agribusiness. We’re not going after crop insurance. What we’re doing is we’re going after poor people.
“The price of a farm bill should not be making more people hungry in America,” he added.
Other legislators ask why farmers still get about $15 billion annually in subsidies. (The House version also expands crop insurance and relaxes subsidy provisions to peanut and rice farmers.)
In 2011, dozens of farms each received more than $1 million in taxpayer-funded crop subsidies, according to the Environmental Working Group, cited in the report “Compromising the Farm: The Politics of Farm Subsidies” from the nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group Keep Food Legal. It shows that three-fourths of the 30 most-subsidized Congressional districts last year were leg by Republican representatives.
“Only about 12 percent of American farms have sales of more than $250,000,” wrote Kristina Chew of the advocacy group Care2. “Fewer than 1 in 4 of U.S. farms in this country produces more than $50,000 in revenues. The new bill continues to promote large-scale industry farming via crop subsidies – that is, the new Farm Bill is really about the U.S. farming industry.”
Indeed, part of the bill (the Monsanto Protection Act) would let large agriculture companies sell Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) seeds before they’re even tested, bypassing the USDA requirement that the seeds first be tested for any harmful effects on people. Also, that measure would prevent the USDA from prohibiting corporations from selling such seeds, even if they’re later to be found dangerous.
More than 100 such amendments remain alive and will probably be the focus of floor fights this week. The debate also will reveal how far a new generation of Republicans who’ve never voted on a Farm Bill will go to support government’s traditional role in agriculture.
[PICTURED: Photo from the Iowa Farmers Union]