Will a ‘secret Farm Bill’ be passed this week?
by Twilight Greenaway.
Last week, we wrote about the likelihood
that the $ 300 billion 2012 Farm Bill would take shape weeks before 2012 even begins, in the
form of a dashed-off bill swept into the larger “super committee”-driven deficit-cutting process. As this week starts, that troubling prognosis remains.
In fact, last week, several
congressional aides told agriculture trade publication Agweek that lawmakers planned to “work through the weekend
to try to complete a Farm Bill proposal for the super committee in charge of
deficit reduction by November 1.” In other words, by tomorrow.
This might explain why the food and farming advocacy site Food Democracy
Now sent out an email this morning with the subject line “24
hours to stop the Secret Farm Bill.” The site asked subscribers to call a short list
of senators and congressmen and tell them to say “‘No’ to the Secret Farm Bill,” because “rushing this vital piece of legislation
behind closed doors is unfair and undemocratic.”
Sustainable food advocates have been struggling to adjust to this new reality. As the Institute for Agriculture and Trade
Policy (IATP) described it last week:
hearings, no amendments, no debate. Under this scenario, we may have very
little idea about what is in the Farm Bill until after it has passed … It’s
hard to overstate how messed up this is. We now have an environment where
highly paid lobbyists thrive and citizen’s voices, along with real reforms,
Oxfam American chimed in with a list of
reasons Occupy Wall Street supporters aren’t likely to appreciate this
rushed Farm Bill:
1. It was negotiated to satisfy high powered industry lobbies that pay lots of
money to influence the Ag Committee.
2. It’s a giveaway to big industrial farms at the expense of family farmers.
3. It promotes unhealthy, unsustainable farming practices at the expense of
4. It targets conservation and nutrition programs for cuts disproportionately.
The bill’s details remain unclear, but we know it will involve $ 23 billion in cuts. One Republican senator from Iowa went
on record last week saying he believed the committee would cut $ 15 billion
from farm subsidies and $ 4 billion each from conservation and nutrition. Another
House conservative told
the press that the cuts would “reduce farm subsidies about
20 percent and cut conservation spending about 10 percent. Nutrition programs,
including food stamps, would be cut about 1 percent.”
sustainable and local food movements have rushed out two bills of their own, to be included in the larger Farm Bill process. The Local and Regional Food Bill would bolster support
for family farms, and
“expand new farming opportunities and rural jobs, and invest in the local
agriculture economy.” The Beginning
Farmer Bill would help new farmers get access to capital (the lack of which
is a well-known roadblock for beginning farmers) using microloans, matched
savings accounts, and similar strategies.
Whether these additions have a chance of passing, or are simply symbolic, remains to be seen. Meanwhile, California food,
farming, conservation, and environmental groups have
been lobbying hard to have some say in the proposed Farm Bill. But the
state—whose agricultural industry is said to produce more
than 400 different crops, employ 800,000 people and generate annual revenues
of $ 37.5 billion—will most likely
continue to be left out of the
discussion. One reason is that California farms don’t produce the bulk of those commodity
crops—like corn, soy, and wheat—that farm bills tend to concentrate on.
As a reporter in the San
Francisco Chronicle wrote:
receives only about 5 percent of the money set aside for farm programs despite
producing 12 percent of the country’s total agricultural revenue. And with the
proposed cuts, the state could get even less.
Given Congress’s appetite for budget-cutting, there’s no guarantee that stopping this “secret Farm Bill” from being passed, as Food Democracy Now is advocating, would produce an outcome more favorable to the good food movement. In a short article about
the Farm Bill process, veteran agriculture reporter Philip Brasher wrote
that jamming the Farm Bill into the super committee’s deficit-reduction work might even “insulate the farm legislation from further cuts.”
If this qualifies as insulation, we don’t want to think about what exposure might look like.