Farm bill compromise agreed to? With only modest gutting of food stamps

  • Published on January 27th, 2014

Nothing is writ in stone yet, but after literally years of bickering, the House and Senate conferees have agreed on a $1 trillion farm bill that would cut some subsidies to agribusiness, while not cutting food stamps as much as conservatives were gunning for.

Final tally: Just $8 billion in cuts (although why we’re cutting at all in the teeth of the worst economy since the great depression, when millions of working American families rely on food stamps to make ends meet and feed their children, is an entirely different issue).

Other goodies:

  • Cuts overall spending by $23 billion over the next 10 years.
  • Eliminates the controversial$19 billion direct payments program – sort of.
  • Expanded crop insurance programs (which help keep farmers from going broke as climate-change-induced weather disasters and droughts increase – paying out a record $17 billion in 2012.).
  • Create a new milk insurance subsidy program.
  • Cap farm subsidy payments at $125,000 per individual farmer (so that a small number of absentee corporate landlords don’t wolf down billions, although it’s generally not hard for them to creatively skirt whatever caps and limits the government tries to set up).
  • Keeps intact the federal sugar program, which exists solely to keep the price of sugar higher than the price of High Fructose Corn Syrup – basically a vast boondoggle funneling billions of dollars from consumer to Kansas and Iowa corn growers and agribusiness.
  • It also drops a terrible provision authored by wing-nut rep Steven King of Iowa that would over-ride stronger animal protection rules in the states, like California’s Prop 2.
  • And it DOES allow, finally, the legal growth of industrial hemp – a non-drug crop that was idiotically targeted in the drug war.

Food stamps:

The pairing of food stamps (which benefits urban dwellers) and farm subsidies (which go to rural constituencies) had been the synergistic compromise that guaranteed farm bill passage for the past 60 years. But with the rise of the Tea Party, the new paradigm is: “We cut your stuff and give up nothing in return.” The demands for deep cuts in Food Stamps, while refusing to touch rural subsidies, has made the Farm Bill a political football for the past two years:

  • May 2013: Senate passes a bill with just $4 billion in cuts.
  • June 2013: House Conservatives, demanding even deeper slashing, defeat a bill with just $20 billion in cuts (embarrassing Speaker Boehner)
  • House passed a food-stamps-only bill, with $40 billion in cuts, and insists on drug testing for recipients (despite similar programs for welfare recipients in a number of states being expensive, wasteful, and failing to turn up the vast numbers of drug-users the wingers had hoped for).
  • The final bill drops the stupid drug-testing and contains $8 billion in cuts. The result is in question, as some reports say 2 million recipients could be affected, while others indicate they may be able to keep benefit levels intact by making cuts elsewhere in the program.

The question is – will that be good enough for the House? They’ll vote on Wednesday, and we’ll see if the Tea Party balks and blocks (again), or if a coalition of Democrats and center-right Republicans is enough to get the bill through and on to the Senate.

Bloomberg reports that 47.4 million Americans received a record $76.1 billion of food stamp aid in fiscal 2013 – “or about 12 percent of the $650 billion a year Americans spend on groceries”. A huge percentage of that is spent in big box superstores like Wal-Mart.

Direct payments bait and switch?

The so-called direct payments program had grown increasingly toxic, with both progressive activists and Tea Party budget-cutters opposing what basically amounted to a vast government give-away to some “small farmers” and a bunch of massively profitable agribusinesses.

As the NY Times reports,

“It’s a classic bait-and-switch proposal to protect farm subsidies,” said Vincent H. Smith, a professor of farm economics at Montana State University and a longtime critic of agriculture subsidies. “They’ve eliminated the politically toxic direct payments program and added the money to a program that will provide farmers with even larger subsidies.”

So, a good start, but “It’s moonshine by another name,” said Scott Faber of the Environmental Working Group.

(Wheat field image by AngusKirk.) 

About the Author

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue. He lives in New York, where he combines his passion for the environment with his passion for film, and is working on making the world a better place.