Nel's New Day

June 20, 2013

U.S. House Rejects Farm Bill

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 9:35 PM
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The House did a wonderful thing today: they voted down the farm bill. The 195-234 vote on a $940 bill got only 24 Democratic voters and lost 62 Republicans. The reason that it lost is less wonderful: Republicans voted against it because it was too expensive and because the $24 billion cut for food stamps should have been far more.

The loss has a tremendous impact on Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), further eroding his faltering leadership. Other GOP leaders tried to shift the blame from the GOP House members who voted against the bill. Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) laid the fault at the feet of Democrats. Sixty-two Republicans voted against the farm bill, and McCarthy says that the Democrats are to blame, expanding the delusional world in which the GOP lives.

The GOP thought they had 40 Democratic votes but lost 16 of those, according to Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), because two Boehner-approved amendments ended production limits on dairy producers and allowed states to require food stamp beneficiaries to either work or look for work. Until Congress acts, the 1949 farm bill goes back into effect on September 30 with farm subsidy supports that might seem unworkable in the 21st century.

The argument about cuts to food stamps got the most publicity about the farm bill. Twenty-six Democrats tried to live for one week on the allotted $31.50 weekly. One of them, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), talked about being hungry for the entire five days and losing six pounds during that time. Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) disagreed, describing the experience of living on food stamps as “cushy,” but he didn’t actually do it. His communications director and agriculture policy advisor, said that he took up the challenge on impulse and only spent $27.58 for the week. With little access to inexpensive supermarkets and no well-stocked pantry at home, however, poor people have more trouble make their $31.50 stretch far enough to get them out of hunger.

Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN) used the Bible to advocate a 3-percent cut over the next ten years in the program that serves 1.3 million people in his state: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”—2 Thessalonians 3:10.  Fincher received $3.48 million in federal farm subsidies since 1999, $70,574 last year alone. His House vote increased crop insurance by $9 billion over 10 years while slashing food stamps. According to Fincher, the subsidies don’t go into his pocket because he pays off agricultural loans with the money he receives. And Fincher is not alone in voting against food stamps and for more subsidies for himself.

In the GOP world of “let’s have no government regulations,” the farm bill is a mass of these, mostly benefiting the wealthy. One part of it encourages farmers to plant specific plants because of what the government pays. The plan for crop insurance instead of subsidies guarantees farmers almost percent of the highest prices for the past five years if prices go down from their record highs.

This welfare funding for farmers, at least $23 billion over ten years, gives farmers the ability to take huge risks, planting on marginal soils and other problems, because they know their losses will be covered. It could be even more; critics say that the bill could cost taxpayers up to $6.9 billion a year if market prices shrank as little as 15 percent. Outlays would be 40 percent higher than the current program because the bill sets crop support rates too high. Another project was a cost of $18 billion per year—ten times the cut in food stamps—if wheat fell to the 2009/10 price of $4.87 per bushel. The bill assures farmers $5.50. Corn, soybeans, and rice crops also benefit.

Because the farm program shut out foreign competition for sugar, people in the United States pay 50 percent more than the rest of the world for the product. Thousands of jobs in the chocolate and candy industries have moved off shore because sugar is much cheaper there.

The farm bill guaranteed farmers a $4 margin between feed and milk prices, but farmers had to agree to limit their production if prices go down to force higher milk prices. That part of the farm bill could cost consumers up to $3 billion annually.

Thus the farm bill that failed today that would have created more hungry people in the United States would also fix prices so that farmers can make more money and guarantee them a set revenue of almost 90 percent of what they get now no matter what they do. This is the farm bill that the party of no regulations, the party that doesn’t want to make people dependent on the government, sent to the House floor today. And the only reason that they voted it down was that it didn’t take enough from the poor and give to the middle class and wealthy—mostly wealthy.

Last week, the Senate passed a five-year bill. Because the House has no bill, they’ll have to start from scratch to develop another one or just work with the Senate bill.

[Disclaimer: I realize that many farmers live in poverty, and I am grateful for the food that they provide to the people in this nation. But as with other GOP-supported programs, the farm bill was designed to primarily benefit those who are better off instead of those who truly need the safety net. Also if the farmers are guaranteed the support shown by the bill, so are the rest of the people in the United States. In 2011 the average average gross income of the vast majority averaged a mere $59 more in 2011 than in 1966. For the top 10 percent, average income rose by $116,071 to $254,864, an increase of 84 percent over 1966. The government needs to address this problem.]

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