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Statement: Washington Post "Backward in the Senate"

Statement: Washington Post "Backward in the Senate"

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Charles Lane uncorked this beaut last week, after the Dorgan-Grassley and Klobuchar amendments went down. It's a fitting contribution to the legacy of the late Peter Milius, who roared on the Post's editorial page about the inequities and inanities of farm bills for many years.

A measure to limit bloated farm subsidies is approved by a 13-vote margin. But it won't become law.

AN AMENDMENT to the 2007 farm bill that would have limited federal payments to well-to-do farmers failed in the Senate yesterday. The vote was 56-43 -- in favor of the measure. How can a bill backed by a substantial bipartisan majority not pass? Welcome to the wonderful world of agriculture politics.

The legislation, sponsored by Sens. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), would have capped government supports at $250,000 per year per farm. To be sure, that figure is more than five times the median household income in the United States. But, given that a lucky 570 farms received $250,000 or more in 2005, and that two-thirds of crop supports benefit just 10 percent of farms, this would have been progress.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) did not see it that way. She dug in her heels against the amendment. According to her, it was unfair to producers of "capital-intensive" crops such as rice and cotton. It supposedly would have made U.S. agriculture less competitive in the global marketplace, potentially making us as dependent on foreign crops as we are on foreign oil -- at a time when "news reports continue to highlight cases of dangerous imported food." Left unsaid in Ms. Lincoln's statement was that 26 farms in her home state received $250,000 or more in 2005, according to government statistics compiled by the Environmental Working Group. The recipients include farms run by the Arkansas Department of Corrections, which produces cotton and other crops using convict labor. Federal subsidies to a state plantation worked by prisoners who don't get paid: now that's enterprising...

...Now Ms. Lincoln has something to crow about on her next trip to the cotton and rice fields of Arkansas. But for a Democratic Party ostensibly committed to fiscal discipline, majority rule and economic equality, this episode is a major embarrassment.

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