In an alarming side effect of the national budget stalemate last July, the terms of the multibillion-dollar 2012 Farm Bill may be decided in committee, instead of on the Congressional floor.
First, the leaders of the House and Senate agriculture committees, who represent the four big farming states of Oklahoma, Michigan, Minnesota and Kansas, complete their proposal. Then they pass it to the 12-member supercommittee, organized by President Obama and Congressional leaders, and tasked with creating the national budget. This supercommittee will ultimately accept or reject the Farm Bill as part of that budget. The deadline is November 23, but insiders say the Farm Bill portion will be decided today or tomorrow—behind closed doors.
The bill currently includes $23 billion in cuts—about $14 billion from commodity subsidies, $6 billion from conservation programs, and the rest from nutrition programs, including food stamps. One of the most disappointing pieces is that instead of restructuring subsidies, it just shifts them to a slightly different “shallow-loss” plan, which Mark Bittman in his New York Times column yesterday pointed out, “may save some money, but does nothing to change the fact that the wrong people will get it.” He says small and medium farms growing fruits and vegetables, as well as programs for local and organic farms, will probably not be covered.
Many Americans are incensed: More than 40,000 phone calls have been made to Congress protesting the odd process by which the new Farm Bill is being created, David Murphy said this morning. Murphy is founder of Food Democracy Now, the organization leading the effort.
There are lots of alternatives to those same old subsidies. Bittman’s favorite is the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act, which backs regional agriculture and increases access to healthy food. But it’s next to impossible to show the widespread support that has grown for changes to agriculture policy when the bill is drafted and decided in secret.