Sunday, December 30, 2007

Bread for the World: Farm Bill update

The Farm Bill Isn't Finished

In mid-December the Senate passed its version of the farm bill. This legislation must now be reconciled with the House version through a conference. Bread for the World will continue to campaign for reform as the House, Senate and administration negotiate the final version of the farm bill next year.

Bread for the World and many religious bodies joined forces with environmental and taxpayer groups to campaign for reform of the farm bill. We have shaken up traditional farm bill politics and made the House and Senate farm bills better than they would have otherwise been. About 300 newspapers have editorialized in favor of reform, and surveys show that most voters now understand that there are serious abuses in the farm bill.

On December 14, the Senate passed a problematic farm bill that:
-fails to make farm support programs fairer
-proposes increases in trade-distorting commodity programs
These programs have a negative impact on prices and earning opportunities for poor farmers in the developing world. Savings from much-needed reforms to these programs could be better used to fund nutrition and conservation programs and help U.S. farm and rural families of modest means.

A majority of senators voted for two reform amendments (see how your Senators voted)– no more than $250,000 in annual payments per household and no subsidies to households with incomes above $750,000. But the Senate's leadership caved to a filibuster threat from Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), whose family received big farm subsidy payments worth $715,000 between 1995 and 2005.

Because Senate Democratic leaders did not want to be blamed for further delay of the farm bill, they changed the rules to require 60 votes for passage of those three amendments, rather than a simple majority. The Dorgan-Grassley and Klobuchar amendments received the support of a majority of the senators voting, but they were defeated as they fell short of the manufactured 60-vote requirement.

The best feature of the Senate bill is an increase in food assistance to hungry families, but unfortunately this increase would expire in 2012. This budget gimmick represents a false promise to millions of families who struggle to put food on the table. On the positive side, the Senate bill includes the Hunger-Free Communities Act, which requires the next administration to develop a plan for cutting U.S. hunger and strengthen community anti-hunger coalitions across the nation.

The House of Representatives passed its farm bill in July. The House also failed to curtail subsidies and raised support levels for certain crops, though it did not increase them as substantially as the Senate did. On a positive note, the House bill increased funding for:
-domestic food assistance;
-school meals in developing countries; and
-assistance to minority farmers.
The House and Senate bills do include good things for hungry people, the environment, rural communities and minority farmers, but the funding for these improvements is not secure. Congress should finance the improvements by capping subsidies to affluent farmers.

Stay tuned for future actions and developments.

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