Will we get a farm bill or won’t we get a farm bill? No one knows at this point. There are still a number of unanswered questions.
The biggest fight is over how much to cut the spending on food stamps. We have 50 million people receiving food stamps now and growing. House Republicans want to change the eligibility with work requirements which could save 40 billion dollars over 10 years. The Senate only wants to save 4 billion dollars. That is a 36 billion dollar difference.
On the farm side of this bill, there is broad agreement that crop insurance should be the foundation of the farm safety net. However, there is still debate over how much the government should subsidize the insurance. Another difference between the House and Senate is that the Senate insists that participants in crop insurance be required to meet certain conservation standards. The House says no. We have too much regulation now.
Country of origin labeling (COOL) is such a serious problem between U.S. and Canada that the farm bill could try to settle that dispute. Getting rid of COOL is the best answer. Also, our cotton program is a real headache. If we don’t make some change in it, we will continue to pay Brazil millions of dollars each year because our cotton program violates WTO rules.
There are a lot of individuals who want to influence the outcome of this bill. Secretary Vilsack says, “It is a bill that the White House is quite interested in and quite involved in.”
Senator Pat Roberts offered this advice to House Ag Committee Chairman Lucas: “Do the best you can, Frank. When you are leading the posse, it’s always good to take a look back when you’re riding point to see if the posse is still there.”
We all know that herding cats is not easy. Getting a farm bill will require a lot of give and take.
My advice is – keep it as simple as possible, make sure it is in compliance with WTO rules. Ensure that the supports in the bill do not distort farmer decisions. Farmers should plant for the market, not the farm bill.
Get it done!
John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill.