Senate Squandered Farm Policy Reform Opportunities
WASHINGTON, - The U.S. Senate today squandered a golden opportunity to reform U.S. farm policy, cut excessive subsidies, and strengthen vital programs to help farmers clean up the environment and improve public health, a leading environmental group said today.
The Senate passed the 2007 farm bill today after Senate leadership effectively thwarted the will of a majority of lawmakers who supported two important reform amendments on payment limits and a reasonable means test by requiring them to meet a 60-vote supermajority.
"We are extremely disappointed that Senate leaders threw away this historic opportunity," said Sara Hopper of Environmental Defense, (http://usda.mannlib.cornell.edu/usda/current/AIS/AIS-12-13-2007.pdf). "A clear majority of senators voted in favor of common-sense reforms, but the deck was stacked against them because the Senate leadership decided to require sixty votes for passage of reform amendments, rather than the usual simple majority."
Fifty-six senators voted in favor of an amendment offered by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) to cap total annual farm payments to any individual or married couple at $250,000 per year. The measure would have provided savings of $513 million over five years that would have been used to increase funding for conservation, nutrition, rural development, and other important programs.
A majority of senators also voted for an amendment offered by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) that would have imposed a reasonable means test on recipients of farm subsidies. The Klobuchar amendment would have barred any household with an adjusted gross income of $750,000 or more from receiving subsidies. The vote in favor of this amendment was 48-47. Sixty votes were needed for passage for both amendments.
"Because Senate leaders required a supermajority for reform amendments, the farm bill passed by the Senate will continue to allow millionaires to collect unlimited farm subsidies while leaving conservation programs and other critical programs underfunded," said Hopper. "This is bad policy under any circumstances, but makes even less sense in a year when prices are high and net farm income is breaking records."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasts that net farm income this year will be a record-high $87.5 billion. (Check USDA web site: http://usda.mannlib.cornell.edu/usda/current/AIS/AIS-12-13-2007.pdf) The Congressional Budget Office, USDA, and other economists all predict that prices will remain high throughout the five-year life of the 2007 farm bill. Despite strong market conditions, the Senate farm bill fails to include any hard cap on the total amount of subsidies an individual or married couple can receive. The bill also allows farmers to collect subsidies no matter how wealthy they are, as long as at least two-thirds of their income is derived from farming.
Instead of reducing farm subsidies, the Senate farm bill actually increases them by hiking support levels for some crops, adding new crops to the subsidy roll, and creating a new $5.1 billion "permanent disaster program." That program will provide higher support levels for farmers who are growing crops on marginal lands, wasting taxpayer dollars and harming the environment.
The Senate bill does increase funding for some conservation programs, but the additional funding is insufficient to meet the demand from the two-out-of-three farmers who are currently rejected from conservation programs due to lack of funding.
"The farm bill will soon be in the hands of a House-Senate conference committee," said Hopper. "The votes on payment limits and a reasonable means test show that a bipartisan majority of senators back real reform and a better, fairer farm bill. That's something the farm bill conferees should take into account. The president has threatened to veto both the House and Senate versions of the farm bill; if Congress wants to avoid a train wreck, the conference committee members must support simple, common-sense reforms that will benefit farmers, taxpayers and the environment."
Environmental Defense, a leading national nonprofit organization, represents more than 500,000 members. Since 1967, Environmental Defense has linked science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships to create breakthrough solutions to the most serious environmental problems. http://www.environmentaldefense.org/