In what was not at all a surprise, the House Agriculture Committee passed by a 35-11 margin its mammoth $957 billion Farm Bill early this morning, without any serious consideration given to amendments to scale back either the three new “shallow loss” programs the bill creates or the existing federal crop insurance program, which the bill would expand by $10 billion over the next decade.
Indeed, not even the very modest reforms passed in the Senate version of the legislation received any attention in the committee mark-up. These included an amendment that was attached to the Senate bill by Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., that requires farmers to practice conservation in order to be eligible for federal crop insurance subsidies. The committee’s failure to include this language is a particularly egregious oversight from both a taxpayers and environmental perspective, as the subsidy program — under which taxpayers foot the bill for 60 percent of farmers’ crop insurance premiums — incentivizes cultivation of marginal lands prone to flooding and erosion.
The committee also failed to consider a provision added to the Senate bill by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., that only slightly scales back crop insurance subsidies to the wealthiest farmers. The Senate never even considered a more serious amendment from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., that would have saved $5.2 billion over ten years by capping any individual producer’s annual crop insurance subsidies at $40,00. Instead, the Coburn-Durbin amendment reduces crop insurance subsidies by 15 percent for producers with adjusted gross income of greater than $750,000. The amendment is projected to save just $1 billion over the next decade.
But reducing the corporate welfare that flows to the largest and wealthiest farmers by even that miniscule amount proved too much for the Ag Committee. As Reuters reported :
“It is not our job to decide how big a farm should be,” said Collin Peterson of Minnesota, the Democratic leader on the panel, arguing that it would be unfair to limit aid to some growers. “That is what the farm bill is about, putting a safety net on production.”
Ahh, yes, how dare anyone consider reducing by even a tiny amount the taxpayer-financed safety net we’ve constructed for millionaires and billionaires?
With the program expiring Sept. 30 and only 13 legislative days remaining before Congress’ August recess, there has been some fear that the bill could be “pre-conferenced” with its Senate counterpart in a conference report that would be priviledged from consideration of amendments on either the House or Senate floors.
But in what is perhaps the only good bit of Farm Bill news this week, there are rumblings that Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio — who voted against the similarly pork-laden 2002 and 2008 Farm Bills — may not allow this version to proceed to the floor at all. As The Hill reported:
Lobbyists say that Boehner might view a short-term extension, and banking on a more conservative Congress next year, as a better option than allowing a divided vote on a farm bill this year.