Speaker Pelosi and the Food and Farm Bill

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 ).

6 Responsesto “Speaker Pelosi and the Food and Farm Bill”

  1. Honestly. What did anyone expect from Nancy Pelosi? She didn't get to where she is by being especially moral, or unusually concerned about the health of the citizenry. She got where she is by handing out I.O.U.s like candy on Halloween. There are no sacred cows for her, or any other pol, on the Hill.

  2. Farm Bill Girl says:

    I think progressives are being very misguided here, led by misguided people like Ken Cook. Subsidies are not the root of evil in our broken food systems. they are a SYMPTOM of a broken system. Logging onto Rep. Kind's "reform", which bascially privatizes the system while doing NOTHING to address the central ills of our food system: corporate agribusiness control of the markets. Letting the "market" determine the price for commodities and getting rid of subsidies will only fuel more concentration as family farms go under, and allow for ADM, Smithfield access to cheaper commodities to fuel their factory farms and processed goods.

    smaller subsidy payments will not help the system, esp. when it's all being done to "advance a corporate free trade" agenda as Business Roundtable and Chamber of Commerce also want "subsidy reform." PLEASE, enlightened progressives, think about who you are getting into bed with when you are considering these "reforms."!!!

  3. 4 Borders Pundit--
    I'm not expecting miracles from Pelosi. I hoped that she would listen to the full Democratic caucus instead of the 25 members of the Ag Committee, and push for a bill that helps the whole nation, not just big agribusiness.

    Farm Bill Girl --
    I don't know exactly what Ken Cook wants to see happen to subsidies, so I can't address that part of the comment. I get the feeling that he and EWG are more interested in eliminating subsidy payments to massive corporations and non-farming people living in urban areas than in eliminating all subsidies. Perhaps he'll stop by and answer your comment himself.

    My sense is that progressives don't want an elimination of all subsidies, but instead a redirection of subsidies to recreate the food system. Spending in the quest for a more ecologically sound farming system, subsidies based on how the farmer takes care of the land, now how many bushels can be squeezed out of each acre. Or subsidies for farmers who are transitioning from conventional to organic agriculture. Or payments to help convert from fencerow-to-fencerow corn to a diverse collection of crops like grass-fed beef, vegetables, fruits and grains. Or payments to local governments to offset higher property taxes that they receive by paving over farmland (a national Williamson Act of sorts). Subsidies themselves are not the issue, it's who gets them and what purpose they serve.

    Some other points:
    1) I think a case could be made that removal of subsidies on commodities would not be beneficial for buyers like Cargill and ADM (and downstream users of their products like Coca-Cola). Right now they are paying less than the cost of production because of government payments, thus depressing the price of HFCS-containing foods or corn-fed feedlot beef.
    2) Rep. Kind's proposal is to replace subsidies with an insurance-type program to act as a safety net for farmers. Check out Blog for Rural America's comments on Kind's proposal to how rural advocates see it.

  4. Amanda says:

    Farm Bill Girl, Environmental Working Group supports the Kind-Flake Fairness Amendment (unveiled today), which cuts $10 billion in direct payments from fat-cat farmers and redistributes it to fund nutrition, conservation, and equitable support for smaller family farmers. It leaves loans and other safety net features in place and holds all but the big agribusiness harmless.

    Funny how the National Family Farm Coalition claims to have so much support for their view of the subsidy system’s woes in farm country, but can't find anyone to champion them. Is there anyone introducing an amendment with your proposal in it when the bill comes to a vote tomorrow?

    Amanda Hanley
    Web Communications Coordinator
    Environmental Working Group

  5. Cook says:

    Mark R. is correct about the stance most progressives take on the farm bill, and he's certainly right about EWG. I would encourage everyone to read Kind-Flake. It puts more money in conservation, the food stamp program, minority farmers' assistance, and reinvests in those and other priorities the automatic "direct payments" to farmers that will otherwise total $5.1 billion per year over the next 5 years, no matter how high prices (or incomes) rise. It also contains the single largest investment package for organic agriculture ever proposed. The subsidy lobby's bill that the Agriculture Committee reported is far inferior in every one of those respects.

    And my colleague Amanda is correct that if you're not making a legislative argument at this point in the farm bill cycle, you're not making an argument that will count--at all. Everyone else saw this coming as a LEGISLATIVE event, Farmer Deb. Where's your legislative answer? Is it reinstating supply control (even if the rest of the world produces to fill the reduction)? Where's the amendment? Farmer-owned reserves? Where's the amendment? Higher support levels tied to some combination of the above? Where's the amendment?

    The votes in the House likely start in 48 hours.

  6. Whigsboy says:

    I have tried to follow this bill, but I am thoroughly confused, and it's extremely frustrating because I'd like to contact my legislator and tell him what I'd like to see him support, but at this point I don't know what I'd even say.