Thursday, July 26, 2007

At the climax of the Farm Bill debate ...

In ordinary times, public interest groups have a fairly free hand to advocate for all good things. A better environment. Less government waste. More nutrition. Lower taxes, perhaps.

At crunch time, by contrast, they must make difficult decisions. The priorities of public interest groups as the Farm Bill finally reaches the floor of the House of Representatives are telling. Let's take a look at their websites today.

A wide range of public interest groups oppose the bill passed by the House Agriculture Committee, saying it does not reflect reform. Several of these are pressing hard for adoption of the bi-partisan Kind-Flake "Fairness" amendment, which would limit payments to wealthy farmers and re-allocate a fraction of current row-crop subsidies toward environmental and nutrition priorities, while also reducing the federal deficit. The faith-based anti-hunger group Bread for the World goes all out, with suggestions for letters to legislators and a personal video appeal by the group's president David Beckmann. Oxfam America likewise puts support for this amendment on the front page. The Environmental Working Group and Environmental Defense support the Kind-Flake amendment.

Others, including the Food Research and Action Center, the leading national advocate for nutrition assistance programs, support passage of the Farm Bill without mentioning support for this amendment (that I could find). The front-page alert on FRAC's website points out that House Rules Committee member Jim McGovern (D-MA) has apparently won some funding successes for food assistance programs late in the process, and now supports the House Agriculture Committee's bill. Changes to the rules for debate are described as threats, because the amendments permitted for consideration under the rules recommended by the Rules Committee do not threaten the nutrition programs. FRAC encourages supporters to write legislators and ask them to resist amendments that would harm the prospects of the nutrition program funding, without listing particular amendments to oppose.

Although it might seem perhaps a parochial concern, in a Farm Bill costing many tens of billions of dollars, the Community Food Security Coalition website has a top-of-the-front-page appeal to make sure that $5 million in community food project funding is mandatory rather than discretionary.

As of 5:30 pm, Farm Bill debate on CSPAN is just starting.

3 comments:

Steph said...

One way some people measure the Farm Bill, and perhaps the power of the organizations that advocate for various programs, may be how much money is poured into it. I would advocate for a different measure--namely the long term positive impacts on the program for whom it is intended.

By this measure, small programs can have a big impact even if they don't cost billions of dollars. Take the Community Food Projects as an example, since it's mentioned in the post. For thousands of people, these grants have been a way to empower communities to find appropriate, sustainable solutions to their food security problems. It's an investment in people who know how to make dollars stretch, and I'm continually impressed and inspired with the grantees I've met.

My point is that small can be powerful, innovative, and incredibly efficient and effective. My hope is that small programs now represent the actual reform that many groups have been clamoring for in their own way.

Anonymous said...

Dean Baker wants us to consider the bill progress if it has less pork than the last farm bill. These lobbyists should hire Dean to help them fleece us again in 2012.

"The comparison with prior bills is essential If someone is interested in assessing the effectiveness of the Democratic Congress in restraining porkbarrel spending. No one could have thought that it would fall to zero with even the most determined leadership, so the question is are they making progress? Readers of the NYT and Post have no idea."

Analysis of the failure of the House shouldn't mean looking at a 1% decrease and celebrating. The failure of the Kind amendment to pass is a failure, regardless of what the last farm bill was like. Dean disagrees.

"Farm bills are known as pork heaven. They always include subsidies that have no rationale other than benefitting favored constituents of some powerful member of Congress. For this reason, telling us that a farm bill has pork is not really news. The real question is how much pork, and is it more or less pork than the previous farm bill."

Anonymous said...

wSteph,

what is a "food security problem"?