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Senate’s farm bill similar to House version; both decide against reformcomment (0)

January 3, 2008

By Jennifer Davis Rash

Small farmers took another blow as the U.S. Senate version of the $286 billion farm bill passed Dec. 14, again with the wealthiest farmers receiving the majority of federal subsidies.

The House of Representatives version, which passed July 27, also reflects the refusal by congressional leadership to cap the subsidies at $200,000 instead of the $1 million mark ($2 million for couples) that is in the House and Senate version of the bill.

The Bush administration and others, such as the Christian anti-hunger group Bread for the World, plan to continue lobbying for this specific change and other areas of reform as the two houses of Congress address the legislation in conference committee.

A compromise piece will have to be developed and approved by both houses before being sent to President Bush, who has threatened to veto the bill without the subsidy limits.

“The president’s advisers would recommend he not sign this bill,” Reuters reported White House spokeswoman Dana Perino as saying after the Senate bill passed by a vote of 79–14. “We look forward to working with Congress to develop a fiscally responsible farm bill that includes real farm program reform while providing a strong safety net for farmers.”

Pointing specifically to the Democratic Senate leadership, David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, said, “I am outraged that two amendments (offered to the Senate version) that would have cut payments to the wealthiest farmers in this country passed with majority votes but were shut down by backroom shenanigans by Senate leadership.

“Senators who voted against these amendments did not just vote to protect wealthy special interests,” he said. “They voted against helping working families who struggle to put food on the table.”

One of those amendments, the Dorgan-Grassley Amendment, would have capped annual farm payments at $250,000 per couple. A 60-vote majority was needed for adoption of this proposal by Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, D–N.D., and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R–Iowa, but the amendment failed 56–43.

The other amendment, offered by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D–Minn., also required 60 votes to pass but it failed 48–47. The amendment would have barred subsidies from full-time farmers making more than $750,000 a year and part-time farmers making more than $250,000 a year.

Acting Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Conner said in a statement, “[The Klobuchar Amendment] defeat signals yet another missed opportunity by the Senate to enact true reform.

“The current farm bill is flawed and continues to award the wealthiest [2] percent of Americans with support payments,” he said.

Just three days after the Senate version of the farm bill passed, the World Trade Organization launched an investigation into the United States’ subsidy program, checking to see whether international commerce rules are being violated.

The investigation came as a response to complaints by Brazil and Canada, who are claiming the United States exceeds permitted levels of subsidies going to American farmers, particularly farmers producing crops such as corn, cotton, rice, soybean and wheat.

The subsidies are criticized for driving down prices, which hinders the small farmer in poorer countries from competing in international markets. The more wealthy countries also criticize the subsidies because farmers in those countries fear the competition it brings.

“[Subsidizing the big business farms] hurts poor farmers around the world, and that adds to the federal deficit,” Beckmann said. “Agriculture is the key to development in low-income countries.”

He added that the Senate bill does make improvements in the nutrition programs included in the bill but the funding for those measures is temporary.

The money will run out at the end of the five-year period for this farm bill.

The farm bill comes up for renewal every five years and was actually up for renewal in September 2007. It provides support for various programs including conservation, food stamp and farm aid.

To read a full report on various aspects of the farm bill, visit www.thealabamabaptist.org.

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