Monday, October 31, 2011

Some say a new farm bill is being written in secret; plan due at 'super committee' tomorrow

On the eve of what amounts to a new Farm Bill being submitted for a joint House-Senate vote, small-farm advocates are voicing concern about it being written behind closed doors by agriculture committee leaders and big lobbying interests. The committee staffs plan to submit a proposal tomorrow to the joint "super committee" charged with adopting a plan to cut the federal deficit.

Amanda Peterka of Energy and Environment News reported last week that Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, allied with environmental groups and some right-leaning think tanks, said "submitting such a proposal without input from the agriculture panels or the whole Congress amounts to a 'secret' Farm Bill." He told Peterka that committee leaders are "replicating what got us into this deficit mess in the first place" and they are "not really looking at the big picture, not debating, not looking at the long-term consequences, not subjecting it to public scrutiny."

Carolyn Lochhead of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote for the paper's political blog: "Leaders of the House and Senate agriculture committees are attempting a breathtaking end-run around the democratic process.They are hatching their own farm bill in private and plan by Nov. 1 take it to the new deficit super committee to be enacted whole, without votes in their own committees or in Congress." The current Farm Bill is up for revision in 2012, but a deficit-reduction plan would take precedence.

Lochhead predicts states with diverse agriculture, like California, will be left out of the "secret" bill because it's being written by politicians from states that receive a lot of subsidies. Ken Cook wrote on the subsidy-skeptical Environmental Working Group's agriculture blog that the new farm bill to will likely only serve to "bankroll industrial-scale commodity farming." The new bill proposes cuts from $23 to $33 million that would likely eliminate mandated conservation programs and negatively effect several others, like those that support local and regional food systems.

Jerry Hagstrom reports for AgWeek that Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, told him in an email, “We are undertaking a monumental shift in federal farm policy — one that saves billions of taxpayer dollars by ending payments to farmers who don’t need them.” Read the overall story from Hagstrom, a veteran ag-policy reporter, here.

No comments: