The House yesterday passed a far-reaching new farm bill that preserves the existing system of subsidies for commercial farmers and adds billions of dollars for conservation, nutrition and new agricultural sectors.
For fuck's sake, Pelosi, you couldn't find the will to unite the libertarian Republicans with the reformist Democrats and kick the corporate welfare that is our farm subsidy program in the nuts? For a taste of how insidious this subsidy program is, try this on for size:
The House bill includes a new concession for cane and beet sugar producers, ensuring that they will not have to cut back on their planting when unrestricted Mexican sugar imports start next year under NAFTA. The Department of Agriculture will be required to buy up volumes of sugar comparable to the imports and sell it to ethanol plants for a reduced price, at a 10-year cost to taxpayers of $1.4 billion.
Sure, $140 million a year is chump change for Congress, but did the big corporations in the sugar industry really need the extra help? You know most of this isn't going to the struggling family farmer... and in the end, it seems to me that propping up unprofitable big-box farms is just going to flood the market with sugar no one wants to buy, driving down prices and screwing over the little farmer even harder (not to mention the other farmers in the NAFTA zone that will go under).
I could go on about the direct payments to corn, soybean, wheat, cotton, and rice growers at the expense of all the other crops we could be growing, decreasing crop diversity and fucking up the pricing system. Or how the bill apparently fails to close the loophole whereby farm subsidies go to people who don't even farm. Or how 90-odd percent of these subsidies go to massive agriculture conglomerates like ConAgra and not to the small independent farmer who might actually have some sort of legitimate claim on the assistance. But I'm sure Heritage and Cato and whoever will come out and go on this rant soon enough (if they haven't already - and incidentally, this is probably the only non-platitude issue I agree with Heritage on).
Whatever. At least increased funding for food stamps came out of it, and a couple of tax loopholes got closed. I don't know if I was seriously expecting meaningful subsidy reform out of Congress, and I don't think I ever will unless Jeff Flake or Ron Paul becomes Speaker - and what are the odds of that happening? It's still disappointing, though. I at least thought the momentum was there to make some sort of dent in the system. Maybe the Senate can make some headway here, though with the Senate's necessarily more rural makeup, that's far from likely.
Hilarity of the week: House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D), one of the prime pushers of this legislation, said he opposed cutting subsidies because he didn't want to help big business (the Chamber of Commerce wanted a subsidy cut so they could get a manufacturer-backed trade deal through faster). Good thinkin' there, Collin. You don't want to help big business, so you subsidize the shit out of massive corporate farms.
(And given the big sugar giveaway, is anyone surprised that Peterson received big money from Minnesota sugar producers? Archer Daniels Midland also cut Peterson's campaign a $4000 check - its third largest contribution to a House member.)