Breaking Down the Farm Bill


Every five years or so, the U.S. Farm Bill -- one whopping piece of legislation trying to cover all of the food goings-on in the nation -- is updated, debated, harangued, filibusted, and eventually signed into law. The current Farm Bill's set to expire at the end of September, meaning that the past few months have seen both parties maneuvering and, no doubt, back-room-dealing to get what they want in, and out, of the bill.

Today was the beginning of the end of all that, as the folks in the Senate okayed the bill to continue on. The vote was 64 in the "yea" direction, with 35 against. This means, as your 6th grade history class taught you, the bill's now moving into the Republican-led House. Debate and discourse there is predicted to be a little nastier, with perhaps some of the measures being trimmed from the, as-of-now, $500 billion bill. If that seems like a lot, it could be a lot bigger. The buzz-phrase around the current bill is that it "dramatically cuts spending." So says Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat and Senate Agriculture Committee Chair:

"It cuts spending, ends subsidies, improves accountability and strengthens healthy food systems. We are now closer than ever to achieving real reform in America's agriculture policy."

So, just what's being cut, anyway? To find out, let's take a gander at some of the key components of the Farm Bill that was passed by the Senate today:

- Food stamps, while still a large percentage of the spending included in the bill, are getting trimmed by about $23 billion over 10 years.

- So long, payments to farmers whether or not they actually raise a crop. Instead, the government is going the way of "strengthened crop insurance" and compensation for farmers who planted a crop but aren't making the sales they expected.

- In fact, the subsidies in general are undergoing a dramatic shift, focusing more now on revenue-based programs, which will, according to The Washington Post, help farmers moderate their losses instead of relying on insurance payments.

- Are you a farmer with an adjusted gross income of more than $750,000? Guess what? You're done getting a subsidy.

- Payments to farmers are now capped at $50,000 per person and $100,000 per couple.

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- Are you a "farm manager," which is, as Fox News puts it, "sometimes wealthy people who may have an interest in a farm but don't live on the property or actively engage in farming"? Guess what? You're not getting any money anymore either.

Those are the main issues in the bill. From a cursory examination of the reactions of both parties, looks like the Democrats feel the cuts are satisfactory and will help improve the economy while simultaneously cut spending, while the Republicans don't think this goes far enough. Neither side seems to think the U.S. is trimming the fat a bit too much, possibly cutting a bit into the bone, so at least there's that.

So, then: What do you think, farmers or otherwise? Do you think the current Farm Bill is set as is, or should the House of Representatives dig their paws into it and finagle some more?

Photo by Flickr user Rennett Stowe.

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