Monday, November 05, 2007

Curiouser and curiouser...

Jim Weisemeyer, our man in DC, has been reading the fine print in the Senate Farm Bill and discovers it's a mirage.
Budget foolery for food nutrition spending. Senate farm bill writers have not only played budget games with the Average Crop Revenue (ACR) program (see below for details), but have played a high-stakes nutrition spending game by front-loading spending the first five years and virtually zeroing out nutrition spending for years six through ten. [More by subscription]
In fact, Jim details a piece of legislation riddled with deception and dangerous consequences. His journalism is beyond reproach (and saves me doing tough slogging), but this whole process seems to have tested his professional detachment. Unlike me, he generally supports a farm bill of some kind, but if we no longer can negotiate one with good faith and transparency, I wonder how many personal ethics advocates like him will be required to lay aside to assure a farm program exists.

Michael Pollan, the persistent critic of farm programs, writes in the NYT how this process of "turning" farm bill opponents is accomplished.
How could this have happened? For starters, farm bill critics did a far better job demonizing subsidies, and depicting commodity farmers as welfare queens, than they did proposing alternative — and politically appealing — forms of farm support. And then the farm lobby did what it has always done: bought off its critics with “programs.” For that reason “Americans who eat” can expect some nutritious crumbs from the farm bill, just enough to ensure that reform-minded legislators will hold their noses and support it.

It’s an old story: the “hunger lobby” gets its food stamps so long as the farm lobby can have its subsidies. Similar, if less lavish, terms are now being offered to the public health and environmental “interests” to get them on board. That’s why there’s more money in this farm bill for nutrition programs and, for the first time, about $2 billion to support “specialty crops” — farm-bill-speak for the kind of food people actually eat. (Since California grows most of the nation’s specialty crops, this was the price for the state delegation’s support. Cheap indeed!) [More]
And now the latest wrinkle is the growing likelihood of a veto. (Color me surprised!)
Bush told House Republicans in a closed-door meeting at the White House on Tuesday he would veto any health insurance bill that raises taxes, a significant hardening of his public position. He also suggested he would reject any other measure that includes higher taxes, portending a veto struggle over energy legislation and possibly a farm bill the Democratic-controlled Congress is trying to pass. [More]
How to handicap this whole process? Just a wild guess, but with Iraq calming down to a long-haul, expensive occupation, White House polling might be showing presidential fiscal toughness is working for previously abysmal approval numbers. In fact, the veto-spree could make Congress look (if possible) more impotent by comparison, since overrides (other than the pork-filled WRDA) could be very hard. That leaves Democrats with nothing to show, even though the president was partially to blame.

[Return to AgWeb]

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