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.