Sign up to receive email updates, action alerts & health tips from EWG. [Privacy]

AgMag BLOG

Feeding your mind, saving the planet >>

Six Reasons Why Fiscal Conservatives (and Every American) Should Hate the House Farm Bill

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The budget-busting farm bill headed to the House floor next week is bad news for taxpayers. Here’s why this bill, officially H.R. 1947, shouldn’t pass. 

In addition to including, in the words of the Speaker, a "Soviet-style" dairy program, this bill would:

Send crop insurance subsidies soaring to nearly $100 billion over the next decade. Right now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture covers, on average, two-thirds of a farmer’s premium. The bill proposes to increase revenue guarantees to 90 percent of a farm’s income, provide 80 percent of a cotton farmer’s premium subsidy, and create a new peanut insurance program tied to the price of peanuts in Rotterdam.

Fail to limit insurance subsidies so the largest farm businesses would continue to collect the lion's share. Under current law, some farmers reap more than $1 million in premium support, and roughly 10,000 farmers receive more than $100,000 in premium support. While the top 1 percent of farmers annually receives, on average, more than $200,000, the bottom 80 percent collects just $5,000.

Increases price guarantees so close to market prices that even a small decline in crop prices would trigger billions of dollars in government spending, erasing any savings from eliminating long-discredited “direct payments” for corn, soybeans, wheat and rice.  This so-called "price loss" program would boost already sky-high price guarantees for cotton and peanuts by 30 and 80 percent, respectively. The bill would even create a new price guarantee for sushi rice! Farmers would be allowed to double-dip: they would collect insurance claims as well as payments from the new price loss program.

Extend direct payments for cotton farmers for two more years at a cost of nearly $1 billion.  Direct payments would continue to be paid cotton farmers regardless of need – or even whether a farmer harvested a crop. Other farmers would have to limp by unlimited insurance subsidies and eye-popping price guarantees.

Conceal names of subsidy recipients, among them, members of Congress. Recipients of direct payments, conservation payments and other farm programs are made public but the House Agriculture Committee has refused to divulge the identities of those who receive crop insurance subsidies that now comprise two-thirds of the farm safety net.

Weaken the conservation compact. Since 1985, farmers have agreed to adopt basic environmental protections in exchange for nearly $300 billion in farm subsidies. But, unlike the Senate farm bill, H.R. 1947 would not require that farmers receiving generous insurance premium subsidies protect wetlands or reduce soil erosion.

Reasonable reforms would provide farmers a robust safety net but at far less cost to the taxpayer than H.R. 1947.  A bipartisan group of House members hopes to improve the bill via amendments to limit crop insurance subsidies to $50,000 per farmer, subject crop insurance subsidies to means testing, end windfall profits, and require USDA to disclose the names of subsidy recipients. When combined with other reforms, these amendments could save the taxpayers more than enough to spare conservation and nutrition programs from proposed cuts and meet deficit reduction targets.