The San Francisco Chronicle has a story on page A-1 (below the fold, below all of the Harry Potter stories) reporting that Speaker Pelosi has "signed off" on the House Agriculture Committee's version of the Food and Farm Bill (detailed coverage at FarmPolicy.com), indicating that she will use her power to see it passed. Even worse, she "hailed as reform a bill that would grant subsidies to farmers earning up to $1 million -- five times more than the cap sought by the Bush administration -- while increasing actual payments to farmers. " Pelosi's main goal in supporting the Ag Committee's version, according to the article, is to protect the seats of newly elected House members from farming districts (yet again, the Democrats put politics before principles).
Critics of current farm policy were not pleased:
"Bush seems to be taking a harder stance on millionaires than the Democratic Party, which is surprising," said Kari Hamerschlag, policy director for the California Coalition for Food and Farming, a Watsonville group urging lawmakers to move money from crop subsidies to environmental and nutrition programs. [Ms. Hamerschlag was referring to the Bush Administration's proposal of a $200,000 income cap, compared to the $1,000,000 cap in the House Ag Committee bill]
...If anything, "we've actually increased the rates at which we support prices" for subsidized crops, said Daniel Sumner, a leading farm economist and director of the Agricultural Issues Center at UC Davis. "We've really done nothing of a significant nature to change those programs. ... I think that's a mistake for the country."
...Ken Cook, president and founder of the Environmental Working Group, said the activists are "shocked that this would be considered reform."
And these are just the sound bites that made it into the story. Ken Cook, for example, has a long post calling the deal a "corn subsidy windfall." Dan Owens, at the Center for Rural Affairs: points out the many loopholes in the payment limits scheme that will hurt small and medium-sized farms in This is NOT Reform. I'm sure we'll see quite a bit more sharp criticism in the days ahead.
With the Speaker behind the House Agriculture Committee's sham of a reform, does this doom the prospect of significant change? Speaker Pelosi has been quite successful at maintaining discipline in the Democratic caucus, yet already we are hearing quite a bit of discontent. Rep. Kind, for example:
Rep. Kind promised to lead a fight on the House floor, hoping to pick up many Democrats for his plan to change the bill.
"We anticipate large bipartisan support," Kind said. "I don't think the farm bill is in final form by any stretch of the imagination. The process is just starting."
Indeed, there is a long way to go. The Senate has barely started and after the two houses have their final vote, the conference committee between the bodies will need to reconcile the different bills (note that Pelosi and the Democratic leadership will pick who is on the House conference committee).
You can give Pelosi an earful (or an "e-ful"?) directly (via the Center for Rural Affairs website) or indirectly (via your own representative). Tell the Speaker that we need a farm bill for all Americans, not just the commodity growers and absentee landowners (like the mysterious Constance Bowles, who collected $1,210,865 in farm payments between 2003 and 2005 while living in a posh neighborhood in San Francisco, the 94118 zip code, average income $124,213 ).