I’m with Bush on the food bill.

Unusually, I’ve got to support President Bush’s position on the farm bill, and oppose the supermajority in the House and the Senate who support it.

The farm bill is, functionally, the food bill, and that’s how I think of it. It substantially dictates what we eat, because it has such a strong influence in what farmers choose to grow and in resulting economics of food. There are a lot of good things about it. But there are also some really terrible things about it.

Michael Doyle explains Bush’s opposition for McClatchy:

Bush wanted the bill to ban all subsidy payments to farmers with incomes exceeding $200,000. Instead, the bill bans one form of subsidy to farmers with agricultural incomes exceeding $750,000. For a married couple, the outside income limit will be $1.5 million.

The bill is loaded down with pork. $126M in tax breaks for owners of racehorses, courtesy of Kentucky’s Sen. Mitch McConnell. $170M for salmon fisherman. But that’s just surface problems. Michael Grunwald went into great detail for Time last fall about why this bill is flawed on a conceptual level:

It redistributes our taxes to millionaire farmers as well as to millionaire “farmers” like David Letterman, David Rockefeller and the owners of the Utah Jazz. It contributes to our obesity and illegal-immigration epidemics and to our water and energy shortages. It helps degrade rivers, deplete aquifers, eliminate grasslands, concentrate food-processing conglomerates and inundate our fast-food nation with high-fructose corn syrup. Our farm policy is supposed to save small farmers and small towns. Instead it fuels the expansion of industrial megafarms and the depopulation of rural America. It hurts Third World farmers, violates international trade deals and paralyzes our efforts to open foreign markets to the nonagricultural goods and services that make up the remaining 99% of our economy.

I would love to take up farming. Seriously. I’d grow tomatoes, lettuce, potatoes, melons, strawberries, apples, peaches, onions, herbs, flowers, maybe raise some sheep and chickens for cheese and eggs… But where are the tomato subsidies? The basil subsidies? How about strawberry subsidies? They don’t exist. We only pay farmers to grow soybeans and corn, inedible to humans, which are heavily processed and turned into all sorts of other fantastically unhealthy foods. People buy and eat those because they’re cheap, thanks to subsidies. People don’t buy fresh tomatoes, basil, and strawberries, because they’re comparatively expensive. Five hundred calories of tomatoes will run you $15 in September. Or you could buy 15,000 calories worth of food for the same price in any of hundreds of heavily-processed forms found in the middle 75% of your nearest grocery store. The entire economic structure of food is skewed by subsidies.

This food bill is lousy, and the fact that a big chunk of it goes to nutrition programs does nothing to make me feel better. (What do people spend their food stamps on? The most calorically-dense food they can get, sensibly. The very crap that results from subsidizing corn and soy.) I feel like advocating for Bush to veto the food bill, but that really wouldn’t make much sense, given the overwhelming support it enjoys in congress. So, fine, sign it. The good news, I suppose, is that the American public is actually talking about the farm bill, something that isn’t normally in the public eye.

For what it’s worth, all of the Republican members of Virginia’s members of the House opposed this bill, save for Rep. Randy Forbes. Rep. Jim Moran voted against it, too. four members of Virginia’s delegation opposed this bill: Cantor, Davis, Goode and Wolf. I suspect they opposed it for different reasons than I oppose it, but I appreciate their vote nonetheless.

12 thoughts on “I’m with Bush on the food bill.”

  1. I also found myself in the cognitively uncomfortable position of agreeing with the president. Life is difficult and complicated sometimes, but I suppose that’s what makes it interesting.

    Incidentally, basil subsidies sounds like a fantastic plan. I try to grow at least twice as much basil as anything else in my herb garden, but it never feels like it’s enough.

  2. I’m with you. We planted a great deal of basil last year, and it definitely wasn’t enough. We’ve increased that by maybe 50% this year, but still ended up planting more last week. The amount of basil that it takes to make pesto is pretty staggering.

  3. It doesn’t help that they go from healthy plants to flowering and wilting in a matter of minutes. Couple that with the insatiable appetite that beetles seem to have for the things, and I’m amazed I get any at all for my food. I’m convinced that there must be at least three species of beetle that subsist entirely on my basil. Sigh.

  4. Oddly, enough, I also found agreeing that the bill as passed should be vetoed. But, I found it odd, too, that Mr. Bush wasn’t siding with the big $$ interests on this one…or perhaps he was in a way that I didn’t fathom?

  5. If all Americans had watched the “King Corn” documentary on PBS last month, even more people would be interested in the bill and all the crap that goes with it. Maybe the President saw it and felt convicted about the trash that our government has been encouraging farmers to grow.
    On a related note, one nice thing I’ve noticed about high oil costs is that the price of the organic and local products we buy seems to be more in line with that of the regular labels.

  6. Are you referring to HR 2419? Because I noticed that ranking Repub member of the Ag Committee, Bob Goodlatte, voted for the Bill along with Thelma of Drake.

    You’re absolutely right, Bubby. I was looking at the initial vote on the bill in the House of Representatives, not the vote on the revised version. I’ve modified this blog entry accordingly. Thanks so much for pointing that out.

    On a related note, one nice thing I’ve noticed about high oil costs is that the price of the organic and local products we buy seems to be more in line with that of the regular labels.

    Great point, Tom!

  7. maybe bush was ok in playing like he was against this thing because he knew the hill had veto proof margins? or maybe the moneyed interests that support him are not the same moneyed interests pushing this bill . . .

    Anyway, both Obama and Clinton are backing it (I wold like to hear the thinking person’s defense) . . . McCain is against this . . . its tough . . . the Dems have a chance of putting Iowa into play and voting against this bill makes that more difficult.

  8. I have no doubt that there’s a clever reason why corn is inedible to humans, but it goes beyond my googlectual capacity. Go ahead, educate me. (You know you want to.)

  9. Oh, there’s nothing clever about it — but I shouldn’t have assumed that most folks would be familiar with that. The Winston-Salem Journal recently ran a review of the movie King Corn that explains this:

    “Disgusting,” “chalk” and “sawdust” are how they describe the taste of their corn. It turns out that about 55 percent of their crop is destined for animal feed, 32 percent for export or ethanol use, and a small portion for such sweeteners as high fructose corn syrup. It doesn’t need to taste good since no one’s going to eat it off the cob.

    A central point throughout King Corn is that the United States is producing an incredible amount of corn, and of those 93 million acres planted in 2007, only about 250,000 were for sweet corn, the stuff that’s edible right off the cob.

    Strange, eh? But, to be fair, entirely logical. Why grow sweet, fat ears of corn if they’re just going to be fed to cows?

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