The U.S. Senate passed a farm bill, one that cuts $24 billion from agriculture programs and makes substantial reforms to the way the federal government spends on agriculture programs.
It passed a similar bill last year, only to watch it die in the House after that body refused to bring the package to a vote. Notably, the chairwoman of the Senate’s agriculture committee, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, was up for re-election last year, and GOP House leadership was clearly reluctant to allow her the claim of successfully passing an essential and massive bill.
Both last year and this year, though, the package has held strong bipartisan support. And with the current authorization expiring on Sept. 30, it’s time to get an updated bill in place.
Among the improvements, aside from total savings more than double those recommended by Simpson-Bowles or the Gang of Six plans:
n It eliminates direct payments, subsidies farmers of some crops received even when prices were rising.
n It strengthens crop insurance and expands access so farmers are not wiped out by bad weather and also includes disaster relief for producers hurt by drought or spring freeze.
n It consolidates 23 conservation programs into 13.
The package also builds on reforms to federal food assistance programs that Michigan has called for, among them:
n Stopping lottery winners from continuing to receive assistance.
n Ending misuse by college students whose families are not truly low-income.
n Cracking down on retailers and recipients engaged in benefit trafficking.
And it also includes incentives for growing agriculture-related businesses, including:
n Training and access to capital to assist beginning farmers and programs to help veterans start agriculture businesses.
n Programs to encourage growth in bio-based manufacturing and innovation in bio-energy production.
Such a massive bill —nearly $1 trillion — will have critics and this is no exception. Some specifically worry that crop insurance may be misused, enticing farmers into reckless practices in order to collect payments. Others suggest that some segments of the agriculture industry continue to get special treatment. Such concerns can be addressed in a conference committee. To get there, the House must pass a version of the bill. It’s time.
Lansing State Journal