House Passes Farm Bill: Not Much to Cheer About

farm yard

In what many considered to be a foregone conclusion, the House decided to pass the highly contested farm bill by a vote of 231 to 191. The five-year, $286 billion bill will now move on to the Senate Agriculture Committee — where environmentalists and activists hope to have a better chance of influencing the outcome. Though the Senate committee is largely made up of legislators who also favor the subsidy status quo, influential senators such as Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) have all signaled interest in changing the decades-old subsidy system.

As we've mentioned before, we are in agreement with many other blogs and organizations that oppose the billions ($42 billion, to be exact) in subsidies that mainly go towards rich, mega-farms instead of the poor, struggling farmers who need it the most. What was perhaps most infuriating about the so-called debate was that no vote was taken on the issue of the farm program payment limitations, which has been the most controversial aspect of the bill.It also shortchanges programs that could have helped promote conservation, organics and local farm markets. As just one example of its subsidy excesses, the bill would pay out $1 billion to 13,000 California rice growers over the next 3 years while only granting $100 million to the state's conservation programs. In addition, as have argued many activists and farm policy centers, the crop subsidies will radically distort farming and food production and change the country's rural landscape and diets in ways we cannot yet foresee.

While it's certainly true that there are many who support this bill — outside of the politicians and usual suspects — and that it does have some strong conservation programs and close to $2.4 billion set aside for clean, renewable energy, the fact remains that, as EWG's Ken Cook put it: "This House farm bill will be remembered as a missed opportunity for reform of federal farm policies that are broken at their core. It also represents a failure of House leadership to serve the broader needs of the nation, instead of taking their cues at every turn from the farm subsidy lobby. This bill will not bear the scrutiny of passing time."

The one amendment that had been offered up to cut subsidies and provide more funding for nutrition and conservation was roundly defeated by a 309 to 117 vote. It now remains to be seen whether the Senate will be able and willing to do anything to restore some fiscal and environmental sanity to its version of the bill.

Via ::Earth2Tech: House Passes Farm Bill: $$$ for Clean Energy (blog), ::San Francisco Chronicle: Farm bill's foes see Senate as next battleground (newspaper), ::Farm Policy: Additional Reaction to House Bill While Attention Shifts to the Senate (blog)

See also: ::U.S. House Farm Bill Draft Supports Subsidizing Sugar for Ethanol, ::The Debate Over Subsidizing Snacks
Image courtesy of Tweng via flickr