Cracks in the Facade

A mere three weeks ago, the House of Representatives passed a farm bill that it attempted to portray as true reform. It wasn’t, and now that a growing chorus of voices are condemning the bill, cracks are appearing in the façade of House farm bill enthusiasm. And that only bodes well for family farms and rural communities when the Senate takes up the farm bill next month.

As it happens, we cohosted a farm bill forum with Rep. Leonard Boswell in Ankeny, IA this past Wednesday. (We should mention that Rep. Boswell should get credit simply for attending such a forum, which, depressingly, many of our elected representatives refuse to attend.). Again and again, Rep. Boswell was asked why the House farm bill did not ensure that farm programs had real limits and benefit real family farms. His response, essentially, was that the House farm bill was a step towards reform. We don’t agree with that. But more interesting was his statement that while he thought there was real reform in the House bill, he was not happy with the payment limitations provisions either. In fact, he wishes the House had gone further:

He said he'd rather see a limit of $250,000 per individual in farm program payments, "or maybe even less than that."

Later in the meeting, our own John Crabtree asked Rep. Boswell if he would push for real payment limits if named to the House-Senate conference committee. Rep. Boswell's response:

“I’ve said it publicly and I’ll say it again. I think we can do more, I think we will, and I would have liked [payment limits in the House] to be a little bit different.

While it doesn’t seem like a momentous declaration, this is an important statement. Boswell is almost certainly in line to serve on the House-Senate farm bill conference committee. The Senate farm bill could well include real payment limits, and it will make a real difference in conference committee if a senior House member is willing to stand up and say payment limits are important and he will fight for them. So good for Rep. Boswell, and we are looking forward to his efforts.

And who else is walking back their endorsement of the House farm bill?  Why, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. In a worthy read, the Mulch Blog has the details:

Mark Matthews at ABC 30, the network's affiliate in San Francisco, has been doing terrific work on the farm bill this year. Last night he got House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on camera saying she has "always wanted" a tougher limit on farm subsidies than the one she singled out for praise just weeks ago when it was included in the House-passed farm bill.

How about that. Both the Speaker and all of the members of the House Agriculture Committee have been unanimous in their public praise of the House farm bill up until this point. For them to even imply that they’re not entirely satisfied is news- especially when the Senate is about to get started. And simply because of her position, Speaker Pelosi will continue to wield farm bill influence.

In a related note, there are rumblings that a few key Senators are considering embracing the House farm bill’s payment limits provisions and claiming them as real reform- and using that as an excuse to oppose real payment limits. The above statements make that sort of duplicitiy much more difficult to get away with.

All in all, this gives us real hope. It says that the outcry against the House-passed farm bill is having an effect. So thanks to all of you who have stood up and said you want real reform. You do make a difference, and keep it up. It’s a tough fight, and success is far from guaranteed. Thanks for sticking with us.

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