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Farm Bill Sanity in the Senate

Ding-dong, the wicked witch of farming subsidies might soon be dead. Last year a comprehensive farm bill reform stalled in the House of Representatives, forcing Congress to extend the 2008 bill for another year. But yesterday the Senate passed a new farm bill, and it looks like the House version has a fighting chance of making it through as well this time around. The Senate version passed with a higher margin of Republican votes than last year’s version, and pressure is mounting on House Republicans to get this done. Politico:

Nonetheless, after last year’s stall, it would be a major embarrassment for Republicans if the bill were to die on the House floor. And Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is working actively with House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) to get to conference with the Senate and then see whether a final package can be brought back for enactment by the August recess.

Indeed, at a time when sequestration is bleeding government agencies of discretionary funds, the farm bill is one of the few examples of the parties working together to reduce mandatory spending.

One important measure would cut $5 billion per year in direct subsidies, funds that are given to farmers whether they happen to grow crops that year or not. The Senate version also caps crop insurance for the richest farmers, among other reductions. Still, some subsidies are actually expanded, and there are plenty of imperfections with both versions that will annoy people of all political stripes.

But this is a good incremental step in rolling back wasteful and damaging handouts that have lived long past their sell-by date. These policies were put in place at a time when American agriculture was still driven by smaller family farms, and a larger portion of Americans were owners of some kind of agricultural production. The industrial agribusiness that dominates the food system today is an entirely different creature. Those large corporations can stand on their own two legs without subsidies from the government. The sooner they do, the better for all of us.

[Withered corn crop image courtesy of Shutterstock]

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