House Bill Brings Real Reform

July 19, 2007

The last vote had barely been cast on the House farm bill when the spin machines for groups from the far right and far left started whining in overdrive.

Oxfam America—a group that invested considerable resources promoting the Kind-Flake farm bill that was swiftly and soundly defeated by a bipartisan vote—issued a press release entitled “House Fails to Deliver Farm Bill Reform.”

Before casting stones, maybe these groups should actually take some time to read the bill, because the legislation passed by the House is chock-full of reform measures and has won wide acclaim from environmental, nutrition, and agricultural organizations across the country.

First and foremost, there is $1.6 billion in funding for fruits and vegetable farmers, a key reform that many of the groups now criticizing the House farm bill were originally demanding. No wonder a coalition of more than 120 specialty crop organizations support the bill.

Prior to the vote, reform proponents also cherry-picked a handful of examples of famous subsidy recipients and railed against farm program inequality. The rich shouldn’t be on the government’s dole, they said.

The House of Representatives agreed and closed that loophole, making rich non-farmers like basketball star Scotty Pippen ineligible for farm support.

The House farm bill even went a step further and for the first time wrote millionaire farmers out of federal farm funds.

Despite these strides, some said it wasn’t enough. Therefore, the House farm bill ratcheted reform up another notch and reduced the maximum amount of support that farmers can receive by 30%. They even eliminated the “three-entity rule” which could be used by a few to sidestep these payment limits.

No other group with an interest in the farm bill was asked to take a 30% cut in benefits. In fact, most other groups with an interest in the farm bill saw funding increases.

Farm groups could have complained about inequality. They could have cried foul that for the first time in recent history funding was not increased for family farmers in the farm bill. But they did not whine; instead, nearly all major farm groups in the country rallied behind the House bill and its reforms.

Mike Held of the South Dakota Farm Bureau summed it up best when he recently told Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.), “To get the Farm Bureau, the Farmers Union and all the mainstream commodity groups’ support is a compliment to you and your [House Agriculture] committee.”

But the good news in the bill didn’t stop there. Those demanding reform said changes were needed to attract more young people and minorities to the farm. Again, the House of Representatives agreed.

The bill they passed on July 27 included numerous reforms important to addressing the special needs and concerns of beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers. For example, these growers would be made eligible for additional funding for conservation investments made on their land, and new provisions were added to make it easier to obtain credit.

Amazingly, this is just the stuff in the commodity title.

We haven’t even talked about the $11.5 billion in new investments in nutrition (which will receive two-thirds of the money in the farm bill), the $3.8 billion in new funds for conservation, or the $5.8 billion in additional resources for renewable fuels.

With these vital reforms and significant additions, it’s no wonder many Senators during the August recess called for the House bill to serve as the blueprint for the Senate version.

There’s an old saying “you can’t make everyone happy.” Well, with the exception of a few radicals, it appears that the House of Representatives has come pretty darn close.

Now it’s the Senate’s turn.