Time for a Change

Back to the media tour. A really good article in the New York Times today surveys the farm bill, and discusses how Tom Harkin has been essentially steamrolled in his efforts to achieve a reform farm bill. Harkin:

“We have to consider new ideas,” he said in a conference call with reporters in June. “We should not cling to a system that channels ever larger commodity payments to a relatively few, with two-thirds of American farmers getting none at all.”…

But as the Agriculture Committee prepares to put the final touches on the farm bill on Wednesday, Mr. Harkin has come up mostly empty-handed. A near-final draft bill, unveiled on Tuesday, leaves the subsidy programs largely unchanged.

Mr. Harkin says he was thwarted by members of his own committee, all of whom represent farm states. And committee members do not dispute this, though they cast their efforts somewhat differently, as protecting the farmers they represent.

Protecting the farmers they represent? I don’t think so. Once again, those committee members- chief among them Sens. Conrad and Chambliss- are more interested in preserving and increasing the dollars flowing to their states through farm programs, particularly Title I commodity programs. But that is not the same as “protecting the farmers they represent”.

If they were truly concerned with protecting farmers, they would be supporting things like the Dorgan-Grassley payment limits proposal. They are not. But you can see that lack of support as more of a symptom of a lack of concern for family farms. The real priorities of those committee members can be seen in their rhetoric.

They say things like “strengthening the safety net”. “Food production as a national security issue”. “Supporting affordable food for our consumers”. “We saved so much money with the 2002 Farm Bill”. “We must support production agriculture”. “Agriculture must stay united”. And on and on.

More telling is what you don’t hear.

You don’t hear these committee members say anything about finding new methods of agriculture so we can keep family farmers on the land (unless you count renewable fuels).
You don’t hear them say anything about how the loss of family farms continued unabated under the 2002 farm bill.
You don’t hear anything about the fact that concentration and consolidation of agriculture actually makes food security more difficult to achieve.
You don’t hear them looking for new, innovative farm program ideas in an effort to preserve mid-sized family farms.
You don’t hear them condemning the growth of corporate mega-farms that have proven to be so destructive to family farming and rural communities in general.
And you certainly don’t hear anything from them about how to create a real future for rural America.

For those opposed to reform, it’s all about the money. They want it, and they want it now. No matter if that money contributes to the continuing slow demise of family farms and rural communities. At the end of the New York Times article, Dick Lugar gets it right:

Many advocates for changes to farm subsidies say they will happen only through floor amendments, outside the control of the Agriculture Committee.

Mr. Lugar, who owns a farm in Indiana, said he expected the Agriculture Committee would approve a bill on Wednesday without many changes.

“Having counted votes around the table for the last 31 years, I suspect that will be the result,” he said. “But the floor is a different story. That involves all senators, all states, all Americans, not specific states and specific crops. And that representation, I hope, will come to a different result.”


FYI, we’re in a recess so our valiant Ag Committee Senators can cast some votes on the floor. 45 minutes or so.

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