The following article appreared in the San Francisco Chronicle:
by Stacy Finz, Chronicle Staff Writer
In the 11th hour, a U.S. representative and a bipartisan coalition of 26 groups are trying to keep the House and Senate agriculture committees from pushing the 2012 Farm Bill through Congress, calling their process secretive and undemocratic.
The proposal is one of the nation’s most significant pieces of legislation, dealing with everything from farm support programs to food stamps – the last Farm Bill has already exceeded $300 billion. The new bill is expected to be submitted to the congressional supercommittee as early as today.
The supercommittee, six senators and six House members from both parties, was formed this year in response to the nation’s debt-ceiling crisis and tasked to cut the deficit by $1.5 trillion in the next 10 years. The group is scheduled to issue a budget recommendation Nov. 23, which will go Dec. 23 to a simple up and down vote by Congress – no amendments, no House blocks and no filibusters. The new farm legislation would be submitted without the opportunity for debate or a public comment period.
As the largest agricultural state in the nation, California could be significantly impacted both financially and environmentally.
“Time is of the essence,” said Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., who is leading the charge to stop lawmakers from acting without input. “This is a horrible process. It keeps Congress and the whole nation in the dark.”
Kind fears that the bill, spearheaded by the top leadership of the agriculture committees, will cater to commodity crops – corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, rice and peanuts. The congressman advocates reforming farm programs that pay subsidies to large agribusiness. Although the agriculture committee chairs have said they plan to cut $23 billion from the budget, partly by doing away with direct-payment subsidies, there is a proposal afoot to create new programs and entitlements that some believe would have the same benefits as subsidies.
“In the past, the bill has really been skewed to help the top,” said Kind, adding that specialty crop states such as California have gotten short shrift. “We need to grow more specialty crops (fruits, vegetables and nuts). We’re not helping the health of America by emphasizing foods that are not good for our eating habits.”
California receives only about 5 percent of the money set aside for farm programs, even though the state produces 12 percent of the nation’s total agricultural revenue.
“Anyone who thinks a bill driven by industry lobbyists, written behind closed doors and negotiated in secret will be a good deal for taxpayers or the hungry should have their head examined,” said Jim French, a Kansas farmer and agriculture advocacy leader for Oxfam America, an antihunger and poverty group joining forces with Kind.
Craig Cox of Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit that advocates for California conservation and one of the 26 members speaking out, accused “the subsidy lobby” of writing a farm bill that “provides a business income guarantee for farm operations with vast land holdings that are enjoying record profits.”
“We need an open, democratic process to produce a farm bill that meets the needs of all Americans.”
Source: San Francisco Chronicle
Posted by Haylie Shipp