D.C. Watch: Farm bill embroiled in politics
“Congress should slash at least $100 billion in costs from the U.S. farm bill - three or four times more than cuts currently proposed,” a dozen anti-deficit and environmental groups said last week. 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. They warned by way of specifics, that “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.”
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.
Meanwhile the President is described as “playing both sides” to maintain a public pressure campaign depicting republicans as “obstructionists, holding 98% of Americans hostage to protect millionaires and billionaires from paying their fair share of taxes”.
Yet, he is also engaged in private negotiations with GOP leaders who have already submitted several compromise proposals, all snubbed publicly by the President or White House spokesman Jay Carney. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky summed up the bitterness by telling the press Wednesday, “The President would rather campaign than cooperate."
“It would be “relatively easy to save $100 billion in farm spending” said Scott Faber, of the Environmental Working Group. Faber said "Congress should pass a fiscally responsible one-year extension of farm and food programs and allow the House of Representatives to debate the longer-term future of farm subsidies." He then asserted it would be "relatively easy" to save $100 billion over 10 years by ending direct payments to farmers and making two changes to the crop insurance program:
- Lowering the premium subsidy to 30% from the current 62%, and
- Ending a federal payment to insurers to cover part of their overhead expenses.
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