It took two years for Washington to get a farm bill ready and what's on the table is something Sen. Chuck Grassley can't in good conscience vote to support. Is the version recently passed by the House and to be voted on in the Senate really the best we can do?
The farm bill must strike a balance between helping the small family farm withstand market price volatility and being financially responsible to taxpayers. What we ended up with — after two years of debate — is neither of those things.
It didn't have to be this way.
From the beginning of discussion about rewriting the farm bill, Grassley, R-Iowa, has advocated for subsidy reform. He championed provisions that would have capped farm payments and accurately defined who should be considered a farmer. Those measures were adopted in both the House and Senate versions by wide margins. Then, a funny thing happened on the way to the floor.
Changes in the conference committee eliminated those provisions — which would have saved taxpayers nearly $400 million. The way it stands now, 10 percent of farmers receive 70 percent of the benefits in the farm bill. It does nothing to limit the amount of subsidies a farmer with the right lawyer can accrue.
The changes in committee also failed to close the loophole that makes it easy for non-farmers to receive farm subsidies. So much for Grassley's common-sense approach limiting entities to one non-farming manager.
It was time to get a farm bill done. Farmers needed to know that the crop insurance program they rely on remains in place. And the nutrition program reforms are a positive step. All in all, the bill does save $16.6 billion, which sounds like a pretty good number until you consider that it will spend nearly a trillion dollars.
Chipping away at our government's $17 trillion debt is not a job that begins next year or even next week. Our elected officials need to look at every opportunity right now to save money in every piece of legislation that comes across the desk. The farm bill provided an opportunity to improve the system through reform and save millions at the same time. And a conference committee went out of its way to do neither of those things. Missed opportunities have become the calling card of Congress.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and the Obama administration have the authority to include a rule regarding the number of people who can be eligible for farm subsidies. Administration officials should use the full force of their positions to do what Congress failed to do. As for further reforms, we'll add them to the list of missed opportunities.
Dubuque Telegraph Herald
Feb. 2, 2014