Critics urge much bigger cost savings in farm bill

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Congress should slash at least $100 billion in costs from the U.S. farm bill - three or four times more than cuts currently proposed - and resist calls for a hurry-up vote this week, a dozen anti-deficit and environmental groups said on Monday.

At a news conference, they said the $5 billion-a-year "direct payment" subsidy to farmers should be eliminated as part of temporary legislation that would bridge the gap to a new five-year law in 2013.

That would give lawmakers time for a clear-eyed overhaul of farm policy, they said.

Milk prices at the grocery store could double next month under an outmoded statute that took effect with expiration of the 2008 farm law on Sept. 30. It would be the first major impact to be felt from the failure to pass a new farm law.

Agricultural leaders in Congress now hope to attach the farm bill to a deficit reduction package that is needed by year's end to avoid automatic tax increases and spending cuts in January. They say the $23 billion to $36 billion in proposed savings in the farm bill could help reduce the federal debt.

But the critics at Monday's event said savings as currently envisaged are far too limited, and that it is too late in 2012 for lawmakers diligently to consider and debate a mammoth $500 billion bill covering everything from crop subsidies to food stamps, soil conservation and rural economic development.


"The time to pass the farm bill has come and gone," said Scott Faber, of the Environmental Working Group, an organization whose goal is to protect public health.

Instead, "Congress should pass a fiscally responsible one-year extension of farm and food programs and allow the House (of Representatives) to debate the future of farm subsidies."

Faber said it would be "relatively easy" to save $100 billion over 10 years.

Two simple changes in the crop insurance program - lowering the premium subsidy to 30 percent from the current 62 percent and ending a federal payment to insurers to cover part of their overhead expenses - could save $53 billion, he said.

Agricultural economist Vincent Smith, part of the farm policy team at the American Enterprise Institute, said farm spending was likely to climb despite the savings trumpeted by the version of the bill already passed by the Senate or the one currently pending in the House.

Both bills would expand the crop insurance system, the largest strand in the farm safety net. They create insurance-like programs tied to crop production that could be challenged globally as unfair subsidies, he said.

"We have expanded the risk of WTO (World Trade Organization) problems to 17 or 18 crops," from chickpeas to corn, said Smith.

Andrew Moylan, of R Street, a fiscally conservative think tank, said all sides now agree on ending the direct payment, at least. "Put the savings in the bank now," he said.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas last week left open the possibility of another round of the payments for the coming crop season if the farm bill is delayed.

Lucas, Oklahoma Republican, and other congressional farm leaders were not immediately available for comment on the criticism leveled on Monday.


Blockbuster crops like corn and soybeans are not the only target for would-be cost cutters. Tom Schatz of Citizens Against Government Waste said sugar subsidies should be a target for reform in a farm bill next year.

Brandon Arnold of the National Taxpayers Union said there would be a "much better opportunity to write good policy," if agricultural programs and public nutrition programs such as food stamps for the poor were split into separate bills.

It would end the often lengthy vote trading between urban and rural lawmakers, he said.

Skeptics of agricultural biotechnology, meanwhile, campaigned against provisions in the House farm bill that would weaken federal oversight of genetically engineered crops. They said the language should be outlawed from a final version of the farm bill.

The riders would restrict the scope of the USDA to review the safety of biotech crops and "force the backdoor approval" of them by short deadlines for USDA action before approval is triggered by default, opponents said in a letter to Congress.

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Wyoming  |  December, 11, 2012 at 05:23 AM

Big subsidies are probably not necessary, but it is also past time to continue the tax free status of the so called "non profits", who have over 4 trillion in tax free assets collectively and take in nearly 4 trillion in tax free money every year. Environmental non profits do nothing but rake in money and make life miserable for working people including the food producers.

December, 12, 2012 at 08:53 AM

Great Idea! Except this group contains churches. There are 1000's of struggling churches with only assets. Somehow your idea needs developed to protect the real non profit groups!

Bill Stanley    
Texas  |  December, 12, 2012 at 07:39 AM

Cut food stamps. The number of people receiving food stamps (47.1 million) exceeds the combined populations of 24 states and D.C. newsandopinions dot net

Ed & Emma    
MA  |  December, 13, 2012 at 05:30 AM

Social programs come with a price tag, just like items in our beloved Farm Bill!! Minimum wage earning families can't make in a society, where upper wage earners generate an economy that the working economically disadvantaged can't keep up with....just like large farms produce a lot of milk that give their owners a comfortable living living, but keep the price perennially low, making small farms struggle with incomes that may even be below income guidleines for foodstamps. The disparity in income in our country continues to widen and no one in this wealthy nation should be hungry. Unfortunately most of our politicians are several generation removed from the farm and have no idea what it takes to pull every cent you earn from a cow's teat...that coupled with the fact that their fat and happy puts farm peoples needs on a distant burner.

sw wisconsin  |  December, 13, 2012 at 06:12 AM

Lets end the CRP immediatly hay in our area is bringing $300 a ton CRP hay is selling for $150 a ton.Tie the crop insurance to following the conservation plan established on all the farms over 20 years ago if the farmer doesn't follow the crop conservation plan no crop insurance these fields in the hills are not suppose to have strip after strip of row crops you can't quarentee a price and a yield thru insurance the only ones getting rich are the land owners and high input costs the government has held the grain prices up to cause rationioning and cut down on livestock which they have done all this land this land that is in the CRP should be hay with a one year of corn and back to hay on a 3 year rotation big grain shouldn't be getting a guarantee cut food stamps to non US citizens if the illegals want to sneek into the country quit giving them taxpayer handouts! Cut the subsidies to big grain. someone need to rein in the EPA it is out of control with regulations...

Idaho  |  December, 13, 2012 at 07:42 PM

Food stamps to health and human services, not in USDA budget. No ethanol mandate. It's inefficient and wasteful, burning grain for fuel. Do away with the EPA to stimulate economic growth but cutting harassment, and removing their vegan agenda.

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