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Editorial — Farm bill isn’t perfect, but should be signed

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President Bush has been blasting the farm bill from the get-go. It’s almost as if he was determined to veto the bill no matter how it turned out.

When the House passed its version of the bill last July, Bush sent his stand-ins across the nation armed with a map showing millionaires in Manhattan that were collecting farm subsidies. He threatened a veto.

When the Senate passed its bill in December, Bush again threatened a veto.

Last week, in a conference call with reporters, Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer said the president will veto the bill.

Schafer said the administration was disappointed in the legislation, saying it will increase the bill on taxpayers by nearly $20 billion. When asked how the bill increases subsidies to farmers, Schafer cited target prices and loan rates, neither of which will increase subsidies as long as prices stay high.

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The administration says the bill fails to make real reforms, but others disagree.

"This is a great reform bill," said Minnesota Farmers Union president Doug Peterson. "It offers balance on conservation and nutrition and reduces direct payments and offers better risk protection for farmers. Real reform was achieved by eliminating the triple entity provision and requiring direct attribution for farm payments."

The administration also takes issue with the income limit cap in the bill. The Adjusted Gross Income limit is set at $500,000 for off-farm income and $750,000 for on-farm income.

"I have to wonder if there’s even one farm out there that would be removed from taxpayer supported pay-outs because of this law," Schafer said. "Wasteful and irresponsible spending like this will erode America’s support for our farmers and ranchers."

Feel as you may about subsidies, but as Peterson pointed out, farmers and ranchers are the only ones who have income caps when it comes to receiving subsidies. Those who receive conservation payments don’t have an income limit. Oil or energy companies don’t have to meet an income limit to get tax credits or subsidies.

"Let’s put a payment cap on Halliburton," Peterson said.

The farm bill has opposition. The Center for Rural Affairs says the bill invests little in the future of rural communities and subsidizes the destruction of family farming for another five years.

"This bill reflects a failure of leadership by both Congress and the administration," said Chuck Hassebrook, executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs. "The administration talked reform, while refusing to support the one true reform on the table — the Dorgan-Grassley amendment — and refusing to use its existing administrative authority to close payment limitation loopholes."

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Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, said he opposes the farm bill.

But the farm bill has drawn support from 557 groups who represent not only traditional commodity groups, but also speciality crop, conservation, nutrition, consumer and religious organizations from across the country. Both Democratic presidential candidates, Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, support the bill.

It passed both chambers of Congress by veto-proof majorities: The House passed the bill 318-106 on May 14 and the Senate by 81-15 on May 15.

The farm bill isn’t perfect — has there ever been a perfect bill? — but it’s time to move on. It’s time to sign a farm bill and start thinking about what to change in the next farm bill, due to be written in 2012.

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