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July 20, 2013 01:19 PM UTC

The Farm Bill Folly of 2013

  • by: MichaelBowman

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

The ink hadn't yet dried on the House-passed version of the 2013 FAARM  [Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act] Act of 2013 before the guile began:

“I applaud the passage of the farm bill in the House today. It is an important piece of legislation that provides certainty for America’s farmers while modernizing and streamlining our agricultural policy."

~Congressman Cory Gardner

Well, if by "certainty, modernizing and streamlining" you mean "devoid of structural changes that have broad bipartisan support in both chambers, no form of means testing and converting subsidies scheduled to sunset in 2013 into permanent law, all at a cost that is $25 billion higher than the President requested in his budget, and $18 billion more than your own party's "Path to Prosperity" budget resolution, you nailed it. 

In the words of Inigo Montoya, "You keep using that word. I don't think it means what you think it means."

It didn't take long for heads to start exploding at The Weekly Standard:

"Republican leaders will claim that this bill takes a small step in the direction of reform, since large steps aren’t possible. But that simply isn’t true. Reform would have meant limiting crop insurance subsidies, particularly for rich farmers, and not adding expensive new entitlements like “shallow loss.” Then the House could have pursued a food stamp bill with a similar eye to reforms to trim costs while preserving the safety net.

Chris Chocola, President of the free-market-oriented Club for Growth, which opposed the bill, had this to say:

"Republicans resent the caricature that they lavish support on the rich and care little for the poor. They need look no further than the latest farm bill vote to see why the label is so enduring."

And while this second vote was widely seen as a move to save face for Eric Cantor after last months failed vote to pass the House version and send it to conference committee, which Cantor attempted to pin on Minority Leader Pelosi, Republicans privately agree that vote was a direct result of lobbying efforts by the Club for Growth and The Heritage Foundation  To wit: 

Heritage Action CEO Mike Needham told CQ Roll Call there is “a disconnect” between the GOP leadership and the conservative voters they allegedly represent.  He said his group is “dying to go into battle alongside leadership” but won’t cede ground on issues that matter to it. Leadership’s job is to get to 218, our job is to make it impossible for them to get to 218 unless they are doing the right thing.”

This divide on Capitol Hill between the Senate and the House, and further, between the two warring factions of the House, leave both agriculture and nutrition assistance recipients in unchartered territory.  The likelihood of finding a resolve to the divides seems out-of-reach by the looming September 30 deadline.  Without the inclusion of SNAP in the final bill, the White House has promised a veto.  Including SNAP in a conference report likely guarantees its death in the final House vote.   And it's unlikely the next House vote can be successful without Democratic votes.  House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla) warned Friday that no one should expect action anytime soon given fights among House Republicans over how much to cut food stamps. 

Closer to home this begs the question on which side of the House divide Congressman Gardner will fall during these negotiations?  Colorado's CD-4 is home to not only farmers and ranchers, but energy advocates and a growing population of working poor and their children who rely on nutrition assistance.  There are enough children living in childhood poverty in the Congressman's district to fill his hometown of Yuma 31 times over

I'd be lying if I said I haven't been deeply disappointed by my Congressman's performance in this Farm Bill fiasco.  Circumstantial evidence points to his hand in adding Section 5206 to the final version of the bill – a provision that would allow Tri-State to circumvent a recent court ruling and build thier long-awaited coal plant in Holcomb, Kansas.  I see no leadership from the Congressman regarding his defense of the current Renewable Fuels Standard – federal policy that is opening markets for rural communities like those in his Congressional district with waste resources.  That said, his lack of leadership on nutrition assistance for his district and his agricultural community regarding the development of non-fossil fuel resources isn't an unsolvable puzzle:  he has been the beneficiary of hundreds of thousands of dollars in direct and indirect funding by Koch, Inc.  And those kinds of dollars buy the givers the votes they want.  Damn the working poor in the district – Americans for Prosperity want you off government assistance.  Damn the farming community – they expect their dollars to buy votes for offshore drilling in Alaska.  Obviously, Alaskan oil has some nexus to eastern Colorado.  Damn the many communities across your district that could benefit from robust federal energy standards that open the grid to competition and allow everyone to be an energy generator.  Damn them, because the Koch-funded ALEC movements across the nation to repeal renewable energy standards are more important. 

Without a conference committee resolve we'll revert to a continuing resolution – and take up this battle for another day.  And while I will give credit where credit is due and thank the Congressman for his support of our industrial hemp research amendment that survived the floor vote and is slated for Conference – the fact that Congress has once-again failed to make any meaningful reform and address the contemporary needs of a 21st century agriculture a tragedy of epic proportions.  Agriculture is less than 1% of the federal budget; in the big picture we are a rounding error.  Our cheap food policy is a sword that cuts in both directions: we've subsidized the commodities that have lead to our national obesity epidemic – and we've ignored the foods that promote wellness.  Since 1995, 4% of the nation's farmers have received over 74% of the subsidies.  Over 60% of Americans farms and ranches receive no subsidies at all. This discussion should be less about the amount of money in the program and laser-focused on to whom it's allocated.  Today, we pay Brazil $147mm annually so that we can continue to subsidize our American cotton producers – an industry that occupies 1% of US farmland yet accounts for 25% of all pesticide use and 12% of all insecticide use.  The House ignores the role of USDA in building a next-generation of farmers by short-cutting funding that supports incredible advocate groups such as the Farm-Vet Coalition  The Congressman seems to ignore the opportunities for communities like the 40+ small-attendance education centers across his district that could become energy producers, buoying both their school budgets and local governments.  A win-win.  But unfortunately, the House version of the Farm Bill strips all mandatory funding for rural renewable energy projects. 

It's a sad indictment on our democracy – or perhaps our lack thereof.  When we can't deal with the significant opportunities before us within a program that is less than 1% of the US budget, what chance do we have with our other looming challenges and opportunities?  As a fifth-generation rural Coloradan who is proud of my heritage and my community – I wanted better for our district, my family and my grandchildren.  We live in a world of endless opportunity – usurped only by the monied and privileged class of political elites that suffocate Capitol Hill.  As quoted in last week's business section in the New York Times

“Only an evil genius could have dreamed this up.”


17 thoughts on “The Farm Bill Folly of 2013

  1. Excellent diary, Michael. Cory is a prime example of the pervasive effect campaign contributions have on our political system. He has become morally bankrupt and ethically perverse. When Cory was a state legislator, he was misguided and often stupid, but I think he was committed to working for the people of Colorado.

    Now he works for Koch Industries, Encana, Monsanto, and any other source  that will line his pockets and further his political career. He is a great disappointment.

    Unfortunately, he is an example of what the Republican party has become "in toto".

    There is no heart or soul left in the GOP…only power grabbing opprtunists, bereft of social conscience.

    1. I think that's unfair to call out just the GOP for being in the pocket of big business. It's not like Hickenlooper puts the people before Oil & Gas or that Bennet puts the people before Wall St., MPAA, RIAA, …

      1. Other than the fact this is a specific story about Republicans regarding the farm bill, that can be an arguable point.  Show me a proposal for program change [means testing, linking environmental compliance to payments, funding small/begining farmer programs, rural energy funding, organic certification, etc. – and I'll show you a Democrat. 

          1. David,

            I do not, for a moment, consider this solely a GOP issue. There are many in the Democratic party who are similarly sold out (We do remember names like Isgar, McKinley, Matsunaka, et al., do we not?). It is just not as completely pervasive as in todays' Greedy Old Party.


      2. PS:  I think you remember David that I was a Republican for most of my life.  Today's party has zero resemblance to the party I grew up in pre-Musgrave era.  I absolutely adore your mother.  If Colorado Republicans were like here I'd still be one.

    2. I've known Cory most of my life.  My grandfather was a friend of his grandfather, the local implement dealer in Yuma who sold International Harvester drills.  My grandfather was convinced his wheat wouldn't germinate unless it ran through a red drill – pulled by a John Deere tractor!  Given the amount of outside money in his campaign none of this is surprising, but hope springs eternal.  His hometown of Yuma has always been known as a hot-bed for agricultural innovation.  Many tried, many failed.  Our County has always been on the leading edge of interesting community developments – the lions share of them supported by USDA-Rural Development programs.  Our county has received $537 million in subsidies since 1995. And we're a county of 10,000 people.  I believe in strong safey nets – not only for our farmers but society in general.  I think agriculture has played a very bad hand in this round of the farm bill negotiations.  I fall under the category of 'to much whom has been given, much is expected'.  Cory's family understands very well the role the agricultural safey net has played in the success of their implement business.  Perhaps the Congressman has become blind to the tens of thousands of constituents across CD4 who struggle.  I've been to a couple of his town meetings.  Not many of them show up.  They've become invisible, so they are easy to ignore.  They can't contribute the kind of money Koch, Inc. can.  In my mind that doesn't give him a pass on having their backs.

  2. Former Colorado Treasurer Mark Hillman of Burlington must have mixed feelings about this Farm Bill.  He seems to be conflicted on the question of personally collecting fat farm subsidies versus eradicating agri-welfare.


    Hillman notes that only the threat of government confiscation of property allows the federal government to give farm subsidies:

    Mark Hillman, September 2, 2007 Pueblo Chieftain:

    “Transfer payments – like welfare, Social Security and farm subsidies – couldn't occur if government didn't have the power to confiscate our property or assets if we refused to pay taxes, even for causes we would not support voluntarily.”


    “He’s (Santorum) been a courageous leader in reforming entitlements, including welfare and farm subsidies.”


    Yet, one website reports that farm subsidies received by a Mark Hillman of Burlington, Colorado approach one-half million dollars.  From the EWG website:

    “EWG Farm Subsidy Database – Subsidy Total 1995-2011”

    “135    Mark Hillman     Burlington, CO 80807       $463,616.75”

    Hillman, please let us know of your current position on this Farm Dole question . . . collect while condemning? refuse to collect and condemn?

    1.  collect while condemning

      It's the current GOP/TP pastime.

      Coffman hates public pensions, except he's got two and his wife is trying to get another.

      Congressmen hate the pointless spending in Congress, except they've spent 37 votes on pointlessly trying to repeal Health Care Reform.


      And on and on and on.


        From the EWG:

        “The program has been maintained beyond its intended lifetime and now is a federal entitlement program for farmers that costs the government about $5 billion per year.”

        "The Tea Party swept into the 112th Congress with promises of cutting government spending. But according to a report out today, at least five lawmakers with Tea Party connections have been longtime recipients of federal agricultural subsidies. ‘There's nothing too surprising about hypocrisy in Washington,’ Ken Cook, president of Environmental Working Group, told ABC News. ‘This particular group, you not only have to look at the hypocrisy but you need to watch your wallet.’"

        “The biggest recipient was Rep. Stephen Fincher, a Republican from Frog Jump, Tenn. While the self-described Tea Party patriot lists his occupation as ‘farmer’ and ‘gospel singer’ in the Congressional Directory, he doesn't mention that his family has received more than $3 million in farm subsidies from 1995 to 2009, according to the Environmental Working Group."

        For perspective on this matter of farm subsidies, let’s turn to sober journalist Dave Barry:

        “The purpose of the Farm Security act is to provide farmers with ‘price stability.’ What do we mean by ‘price stability?’ We mean: your money. You have already been very generous about this: Last year alone, you gave more than $20 billion worth of price stability to farmers. Since 1996, you've given more than a million dollars apiece to more than 1,000 lucky recipients, many of which are actually big agribusinesses.”  “Perhaps you are asking yourself: ‘Wait a minute! Isn't this kind of like, I don't know . . . welfare?”

        “No, it is not. Welfare is when the government gives money to people who produce nothing. Whereas the farm-money recipients produce something that is critical to our nation: votes. Powerful congresspersons from both parties, as well as President Bush, believe that if they dump enough of your money on farm states, the farm states will re-elect them, thus enabling them to continue the vital work of dumping your money on the farm states. So as we see, it's not welfare at all! It's bribery.”,5523128

  3. When the President of the Club for Growth thinks you're looking too much like you're for lavishing benefits on the rich and screwing the poor, you must be so deep into "Let them eat cake." territory, you're making Marie Antoinette look like a socialist.

  4. Excellent and well-researched post. I had already contacted my congressman, Scott Tipton, about his vote for the Farm bill without the SNAP funding. In Colorado, many students eat breakfast at school, because they don't get it at home. The "Breakfast After the Bell" program in Colorado, which served free breakfast to all of the school's students if 80% or more were eligible for free or reduced lunch, relied heavily on Federal funding. There would be many hungry children in Colorado schools without SNAP.  I'm glad that President Obama will veto the bill if the SNAP funding isn't in it.

    It looks like all kinds of whack amendments were added: they  got their air tanker funding in there. Apparently the air tanker funding is a partisan issue.

    1. The SNAP freak show in the House, led by one of my least favorite Congressmen, Steve King, promises to provide us with a lot of drama and heavy doses of hypocrisy. 

      "Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who serves on the 20-odd member working group, said there is 50-50 chance there will be no draft food stamp bill by the August recess. That is about an even money thing. It’s a toss up,” King said. If we can come to some consensus, leadership wants to get this done.”

      And by  'even money'  he really means lavishing the farm-only portion of the bill with an estimated $20+ billion in money in new federal subsidies to the richest farmers in the nation, while cutting the SNAP program by an equal amount. 



  5. Farm subsidies and controls are evil. The FAARM bill is evil.

    They are anti-consumer. They only benefit a few people (and, yes corporations are people, my friend).

    They are anti-business. Sugar price supports mean over 100K jobs in the confectionary industry do not exist in the USA.

    They are anti-environment. They encourage wasteful use of water in places where only grass should be growing.

  6. A great Op-Ed in today's NYT with a counter argument to the "certainty, modernizing and streamlining our agricultural policy" as proclaimed by the House majority.  About the only thing 'certain' right now is the environmental challenges of agriculture are going to intensify – and that under the 'business as usual' scenario of the proposed House version of the law, the US taxpayer will be doling out more and more dollars in insurance subsidies.  It's time to incorporate the incentive for innovate practices to minimize the financial exposure this ever-growing federal program is imposing on society. 

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