Se­nate votes to cur­tail costly sub­si­dies to wealthy farm­ers

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY PAIGE WIN­FIELD CUN­NING­HAM

Democrats and Repub­li­cans con­stantly clash over how much Amer­i­cans should pay in taxes, but se­na­tors from both par­ties man­aged to agree June 20 that wealthy farm­ers shouldn’t pocket mil­lions in con­ser­va­tion sub­si­dies from the fed­eral govern­ment, vot­ing to end the pay­ments as part of a five-year farm bill.

Of­fered by Sen. Tom Coburn, Ok­la­homa Repub­li­can, the amend­ment was one of dozens law­mak­ers were work­ing through last week with the aim of pass­ing the $970 bil­lion leg­is­la­tion fund­ing food stamps, crop sub­si­dies and con­ser­va­tion pro­grams be­fore the cur­rent farm bill ex­pires at the end of Septem­ber.

Passed on a bi­par­ti­san 63-36 vote, the Coburn amend­ment would block the fed­eral govern­ment from re­ward­ing farm­ers who agree to limit their land use for con­ser­va­tion pur­poses if the farm­ers earn at least $1 mil­lion an­nu­ally.

Even though the sub­si­dies tech­ni­cally are capped for mil­lion­aires, the USDA fre­quently has waived that, pay­ing out $89 mil­lion to wealthy farm­ers in the past two years. The pay­ments are a waste of fed­eral dol­lars, Mr. Coburn said, charg­ing that most of the farm­ers would fol­low the con­ser­va­tion prac­tices any­way.

“There’s noth­ing wrong with con­ser­va­tion pro­grams, but most of­ten th­ese pay­ments are paid in ad­di­tion to what peo­ple are go­ing to do any­way,” he said.

Slog­ging their way through the mas­sive bill, leg­is­la­tors tacked on all sorts of amend­ments, man­dat­ing na­tional di­etary guide- lines for preg­nant women and chil­dren from birth un­til age 2, pro­vid­ing in­sur­ance for or­ganic crops and di­rect­ing the FDA to re­search ways to im­prove poul­try and live­stock feed.

They also ap­proved 66-33 an amend­ment spon­sored by Mr. Coburn and Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illi­nois Demo­crat, that would trim fed­eral sub­si­dies to help buy crop in­sur­ance for farm­ers earn­ing more than $750,000.

Passed by the Se­nate on June 21, the leg­is­la­tion re­duces spend­ing by $23.6 bil­lion un­der the cur­rent farm bill by re­plac­ing di­rect sub­si­dies to farm­ers with pay­ments that kick in only when their yields or crop prices drop sig­nif­i­cantly, cut­ting waste and fraud out of the food-stamp pro­gram and con­sol­i­dat­ing con­ser­va­tion pro­grams from 23 to 13.

Sali­vat­ing at the prospect of rare bi­par­ti­san leg­is­la­tion, law­mak­ers orig­i­nally pro­posed sev­eral hun­dred amend­ments, but Se­nate lead­ers were able to whit­tle them down to 73 ear­lier in the week.

Some amend­ments were un­re­lated to farm­ing, such as one of­fered by Sen. Jon Kyl, Ari­zona Repub­li­can, to block the pres­i­dent from send­ing food as­sis­tance to North Korea, which law­mak­ers de­feated.

And while the bill it­self has strong bi­par­ti­san back­ing, some Repub­li­cans ob­jected to the fact that the bulk of it, nearly 80 per­cent, deals with the food-stamp pro­gram.

Law­mak­ers com­bined farm and food-stamp leg­is­la­tion into one bill decades ago for prag­matic rea­sons. But now that the food-stamp pro­gram has ex­panded mas­sively, with 1 in 7 Amer­i­cans ben­e­fit­ing from it, Sen. Ron John­son, Wis­con­sin Repub­li­can, said it should be con­sid­ered sep­a­rately from the farm­ing pro­vi­sions, mak­ing an unsuccessful at­tempt to send it back to com­mit­tee.

“It rec­og­nizes the re­al­ity that what we have in front of us is not re­ally a farm bill, but a food­stamp bill,” he said. “I think it’s more ap­pro­pri­ate to split th­ese bills in two so the food-stamp bill and the farm bill will get more scru­tiny and there will be more de­bate.”

Sen. Deb­bie Stabenow, Michi­gan Demo­crat and lead spon­sor of the farm bill, strongly ob­jected, point­ing to the bill’s sub­sidy re­forms and deficit re­duc­tions.

“I think af­ter all the hard work we’ve been do­ing, I’m not sure we want to do it twice this year on a farm bill,” she said. “Th­ese are ma­jor re­forms.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.