Farm Bill Fiasco
by Stephen Lendman
On January 29, House members passed HR 2642: Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013. On February 4, Senate members followed suit.
Farm Bill legislation awaits Obama’s signature. It’s imminent. On February 4, a White House statement said:
“Statement by the President”
“Today, in a strong bipartisan vote, the US Senate came together to pass a comprehensive Farm Bill – legislation that will build on the historic economic gains in rural America over the past five years, create new jobs and opportunities, and protect the most vulnerable Americans.”
“This bill provides certainty to America’s farmers and ranchers, and contains a variety of commonsense reforms that my Administration has consistently called for, including reforming and eliminating direct farm subsidies and providing assistance for farmers when they need it most.”
“It will continue reducing our deficits without gutting the vital assistance programs millions of hardworking Americans count on to help put food on the table for their families.”
“And it will support conservation of valuable lands, spur the development of renewable energy, and incentivize healthier nutrition for all Americans.”
“As with any compromise, the Farm Bill isn’t perfect – but on the whole, it will make a positive difference not only for the rural economies that grow America’s food, but for our nation.”
Farm bill legislation threw plenty of cash at agribusiness. Why not! Corporate lawyers wrote the measure. They crammed everything they wanted in it.
They added back what they subtracted and then some. Crop insurance subsidies expanded. Food production giants benefit most.
Shifting from direct payments to crop insurance makes handouts more politically acceptable. It’s harder to eliminate them. They pay almost two-thirds of large farmer premiums.
They cover most insurance claims. They guarantee payments regardless of crop failures or price swings.
Older farm bill legislation expired in 2012. Its replacement is 959 pages long. It costs $956.4 billion over 10 years. It breaks down as follows:
- $756 billion for food stamps and nutrition;
- $89.8 billion for crop insurance;
- $56 billion for so-called conservation;
- $44.4 billion for commodity programs; and
- another $8.2 billion for everything else.
Current legislation is on track to spend $973 billion over 10 years. Its replacement cuts spending by about $16.5 billion.
Food stamps lose $8.7 billion. More on this below. Farm subsidy and commodity programs are $14 billion less. Conservation ones are $4 billion lower.
Crop insurance is $7 billion higher. It may be more depending on price shifts. Agribusiness giants benefit most.
Senator Tom Coburn’s (R. OK) provision to reduce crop insurance payouts for farmers with over $750,000 in income was stripped from the final bill.
The Environmental Working Group is a sharp critic of crop insurance. It estimates around 10,000 beneficiaries get over $100,000 in annual subsidies.
Some get over $1 million. Small farmers average about $5,000. Exact numbers aren’t known. Amounts given individual operators are secret.
Private insurance companies benefit from crop subsidies. In 2011, they got about $1.3 billion for administrative expenses.
Large farmers mainly benefit from one of two programs. They replaced direct payments. So-called Price Loss Coverage assures payments if harvested crops fall below a certain level.
Floor prices are raised to assure payouts for some crops. Large rice and cotton farmers benefit greatly.
Agriculture Risk Coverage covers “shallow losses” not covered under crop insurance deductibles.
For example, farmers experiencing 10% losses with 25% deductible crop insurance coverage get payments making up the difference. Doing so avoids all losses.
Of $40 billion in projected savings over 10 years from ending direct payments, insurance coverage adds back $27 billion or more. Depending on future crop losses and price swings, it may end up double that amount.
Despite political opposition to crop insurance, new legislation increases it. Operations with over $900,000 in annual income still qualify.
Individual farmers get up to $125,000 annually. Multiple individuals operating the same farm (including absentee investors) each get the maximum amount.
A provision eliminating the handout was stripped from final legislation. America’s poor get less food and nutrition help. Business as usual benefits rich farmers.
According to the Environmental Working Group’s Scott Faber: “We’re replacing a discredited subsidy with a soon-to-be-discredited” one.
Shifting from direct payments to indirect crop subsidies is what author Suzanne Mettler calls “the submerged state.” It’s old wine in new bottles.
“Appearing to emanate from the private sector, such policies obscure the role of government and exaggerate that of the market,” says Mettler.
The rich get richer. Others are largely on their own. Less visible programs are harder to eliminate. Corporate welfare assures business as usual. It does so at the expense of America’s poor.
The new farm bill is largely Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) legislation. Last November, $11 billion in food stamp cuts over three years took effect.
It’s the first time since Franklin Roosevelt instituted SNAP. It’s when America’s hungry more than ever need help.
They’re getting less. Both Houses agreed on cutting $8.7 billion more. So did Obama.
Trillions of dollars flow to Wall Street. Trillions more for imperial wars. Corporate handouts are notorious. Howard Zinn once said:
“Let’s face a historical truth: we have never had a ‘free market.’ We have always had government intervention in the economy, and indeed that intervention has been welcomed by the captains of finance and industry.”
“These titans of wealth hypocritically warned against ‘big government’ but only when (it) threatened to regulate their activities, or when it contemplated passing some of the nation’s wealth on to the neediest people.”
The more business gets, the more it wants. Its appetite is insatiable. Looting the Treasury is standard practice. Doing so deprives America’s most disadvantaged.
Imagine cutting food stamps when they’re most needed. Imagine letting poor children go hungry. Imagine deficit cutting on their backs.
Imagine ignoring the ravages of growing poverty, unemployment and hunger. Food aid cuts deprive needy families of about $90 a month. It’s about a week’s worth of food for a family of four.
America’s so-called “heat and eat” program is affected. It automatically increases food stamp benefits for families getting home heating help.
Instead of doing so after the first dollar of heating aid received, farm bill legislation requires families to get $20 before additional SNAP benefits are gotten.
Around 850,000 households are affected. They comprise about 1.7 million people in 16 states. They’ll lose $90 a month on average. It’s more than a meal a day. It assures more hungry children.
Millionaires infest Congress. Obama represents America’s rich and powerful. They’re mindless of empty stomachs. Farm bill legislation shows contempt for America’s poor.
A previous article discussed hunger in America. It’s real. It’s increasing. Millions are affected. The world’s richest country ignores its most disadvantaged when help is most needed.
Force-fed austerity is official policy. Bipartisan complicity enforces it. America was never beautiful. It’s less so today than ever. Its dark side reflects reality.
Hungry people don’t matter. Half or more are children. Many attending schools with hot breakfasts or lunches may get their only decent daily meal.
Growing millions are on their own sink or swim. Protracted Main Street Depression level conditions persist. Things are getting worse, not better. Hunger is a daily reality.
SNAP benefits should be doubled, not cut. It’s morally indefensible for the world’s richest country to spurn its most needy.
Tens of millions are affected. They’re increasingly on their own. They’d starve without SNAP aid. Congress agreed on more cuts ahead. Obama signaled support.
Equity and justice don’t exist. America is a let ’em eat cake society. Expect harder times ahead. Expect less federal aid on arrival.
On February 4, New York City Coalition Against Hunger Executive Director Joel Berg said:
“I am devastated, but unfortunately not surprised, by the Senate’s passage of a Farm Bill cutting SNAP by nearly $9 billion, on top of $11 billion in cuts that took place last November 1st.”
“Our political system is so broken it has morphed into spineless versus heartless, and low-income Americans are, once again, those who will suffer most.”
“Every member of Congress who voted for this legislation should be embarrassed.”
“It’s an orgy of corporate welfare and subsidies for the wealthy paid for by cuts to programs that help the needy put food on the table. It is Robin Hood in reverse.”
A previous article discussed unprecedented inequality in America. Obama lied about “(m)aking sure our economy works for” everyone.
He called income inequality a defining challenge. He promised to address it. His policies are polar opposite.
Throughout his tenure, he waged all-out war on social America. He wants it eliminated altogether.
He let popular needs more than ever to begging. He facilitated the greatest wealth transfer in history.
It continues unabated. He plans more of the same ahead. He treats ordinary people callously. He’s mindless of human suffering.
Berg urged him “not to sign (farm) bill (legislation) into law.” Do it “(t)o prove he is serious about using (his) legal authority to reduce inequality.”
Tell “Congress to go back to the drawing board…Come back with a bill that reduces hunger, aids small farmers, and serves taxpayers.”
The above White House statement affirmed his opposite attention. He’s headed for Michigan State University MSU).
On February 7, he’ll sign farm bill legislation into law. MSU president Lou Anna K Simon said:
“This is an important piece of legislation for the country. It not only provides strong support for new research enterprises, but it also strengthens and grows Michigan’s agriculture economy and helps sustain America’s global competitiveness.”
“As the pioneer land-grant institution in America, we are honored and pleased that President Obama will be signing the Farm Bill on MSU’s campus.”
Sociology Professor Marion Nestle called farm bill legislation “politically corrupt.” It’s “awful,” she said.
It’s “hideously complex.” It’s laden with pork. It’s a Christmas tree for agribusiness interests. It’s not “what’s best for (ordinary) American(s), (small) farmers, or the poor.”
It mocks legitimacy. It “legislates further income inequality.” Twice daily, broken clocks are right.
Washington Post editors are notoriously pro-business. Surprising they headlined “This farm bill deserves a veto,” saying:
“(W)e hope Mr. Obama will pick up the phone, call Congress – and tell them he’s preparing his veto pen.”
“It is only a slight exaggeration to say that this legislative grotesquerie give to the rich and takes from the poor.”
“(W)hat the bill takes from the ag lobby with one hand, it largely gives back with the other.”
It’s “hard swallow(ing)” SNAP cuts in legislation larded with corporate welfare.
“Exhausted by two years of trench warfare by farm lobbies, lawmakers are desperate to pass this turkey and move on.”
“President Obama can put them out of their misery by signing it – or stand up for his declared principles by vetoing it.”
New York Times failed to condemn Congress. They headlined “The Farm Bill Could Have Been Worse.”
They called it “worthy” “on balance.” Grudgingly they support what demands rejection.
They didn’t surprise. They’re consistent. They continued a longstanding Times tradition. They endorse establishment values.
They defend the indefensible. They support wealth, power and privilege. They back wrong over right.
Endorsing grotesque farm bill legislation is one of many examples. On February 7, it became the law of the land.
It’s another nail in the coffin of equality. It further thirdworldizes America.
It creates more pain and suffering. Imagine taking food out of the mouths of hungry children. Don’t expect Obama to explain. Or apologize.
Out-of-control militarism, serving America’s monied interests, police state harshness, and sweeping social benefit cuts define his agenda. Expect much more of the same ahead.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at email@example.com.
His new book is titled “Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War on Humanity.”
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.
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