In a conference call with bloggers and public interest groups on Wednesday, White House official Barry Jackson said:
This bill is $20 billion over budget, not paid for, and full of accounting gimmicks and time shifts in payments... This is not in the best interest of American Agriculture. This is not in the best interest of American taxpayers. Congress can do better than this.... This Farm Bill deserves to be vetoed, and the President will veto it.Deputy Agriculture Secretary Chuck Conner pointed out that, with current high commodity prices, farm incomes are higher than ever in recent years, so one could reduce trade-distorting subsidies without impoverishing farmers: "Now is as good a time as any for some of these reforms."
Because the Farm Bill's political support depends in part on anti-hunger and environmental groups, who might otherwise have been in favor of stronger reform to traditional row-crop subsidies, the bill includes some new funding for food assistance programs, new money for fruit and vegetable growers, some gains for the CSP conservation program, and small amounts of additional funds for some sustainable agriculture priorities.
I asked Deputy Secretary Conner whether these anti-hunger and sustainable agriculture priorities would be jeopardized if public interest groups tacitly supported a White House veto of the House-passed Farm Bill. He responded that the administration's concern is with the growth in total funding in the bill, and with the lack of reform to subsidies for rich farmers, not with specific anti-hunger or sustainable agriculture provisions. The administration would support the bill if Congress revised the row-crop subsidies by reducing trade-distorting price supports and capping payments to rich farmers, for example, while retaining the anti-hunger and environmental provisions.
Here is the summary by Ken Cook in the Environmental Working Group's Mulch blog:
[T]his farm bill could have gone far beyond the miserly spending increases it provides for nutrition assistance to the poor at home and abroad, conservation, farmers markets, organic food, minority farmers and other important priorities that have long been neglected or under-funded. And there would have been money left over to give taxpayers a break.
Apparently the Democratic caucus thought they were log rolling when the subsidy lobby tossed them some twigs.
In a period when crop prices and farm incomes are soaring to record levels, the continuation of bloated subsidies to the largest, most prosperous farms in the country can only be seen as a breathtaking cop-out on the part of congressional leaders.