September 26, 2018
As we approach the September 30 expiration date for the current farm bill, the negotiations over a new bill appear to be stalled on many fronts, including big looming issues pertaining to commodity, conservation, and nutrition programs.
On the commodity program front, big differences remain, including, for instance, whether or not to penalize farmers who improve natural resources and the environment by converting marginal land to grass-based agriculture or who adopt resource-conserving crop rotations that include forages or alternative crops. The House bill includes that penalty while the Senate bill does not.
The biggest of all the big sticking points, however, is the near 180-degree difference between the House and Senate passed farm bills on the issue of who should be eligible to receive up to $125,000 a year in farm subsidies.
The House bill would so severely weaken the current “payment limitation” structure as to allow very large farms to structure themselves in a manner than provides them with unlimited multiples of $125,000. The House bill would make million-plus dollars a year payments commonplace.
The Senate bill, by stark contrast, would strictly limit farms to a maximum of $250,000 a year.
On September 26, Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Representatives Mark Meadows (R-NC) and Ron Kind (D-WI) – joined by 28 other Senators and Representatives – wrote to the farm bill chairs and ranking members, stating strong opposition to the House bill’s provisions and urging their support for the Senate provision. The letter also endorses the Senate provision limiting farm program eligibility to those persons with adjusted gross income of $700,000 versus the House bill’s and current law’s $900,000.
The letter notes the strong bipartisan support for the Senate position, which is quite similar to a 2013 House farm bill provision that passed with strong bipartisan support five years ago, but sadly was not allowed by House majority leadership to be offered and voted upon on the floor in 2018, knowing it would win:
“While there are significant differences between the House and Senate bills, there is one area where overwhelming bipartisan, bicameral agreement exists – allowing only one additional manager per farm entity to be eligible[…]”
The authors of the letter also note the extreme lengths to which the author of the House bill went in creating new gaping loopholes to the law to allow, effectively, unlimited subsidies:
“With our national debt at $21.3 trillion, we cannot afford to give cousins, nieces, and nephews $125,000 in farm subsidies when they may have nothing to do with the farm[…] A Congress committed to fiscal restraint should not extend farm payments to distant relatives or make billionaires like Charles Schwab, Warren Buffet, and Bill Gates eligible for farm payments.”
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition commends the Senators and Representatives — 17 Republicans and 17 Democrats — for developing and signing this letter. We urge the farm bill conferees to consider both the substance and the politics of this missive and to then do the right thing and adopt the commonsense Senate provisions while rejecting the truly extreme House provisions.