Farmers facing loss of subsidy may get new one
It's a popular sentiment right now: The time is right to eliminate $5 billion a year in direct subsidies to farmers.
But The New York Times reports that "lawmakers and their farm lobby allies are seeking to send most of that money — under a new name — straight back to the same farmers, with most of the benefits going to large farms that grow commodity crops like corn, soybeans, wheat and cotton."
The new subsidy, called shallow-loss protection, would act as a free insurance policy to cover commodity farmers against small drops in revenue.
What The Times' called a "subsidy swap" is gaining momentum as the debate over the 2012 Farm Bill comes into focus.
Lawmakers are trying to influence the cuts in farm programs that are expected to be made by a special Congressional supercommittee charged with slashing $1.2 trillion from future budgets, the Times said. This week, leaders of the House and Senate agriculture committees said they were preparing recommendations for $23 billion in unspecified cuts over 10 years, far less than some other proposals.
From the article:
Lawmakers’ reluctance to simply eliminate a subsidy without adding another in its place demonstrates how difficult it is for Washington to trim the federal largess that flows to any powerful interest group. Indeed, the $5 billion program that lawmakers are willing to throw under the tractor, known as the direct payment program was created in 1996 as a way to wean farmers off all such supports — and instead was made permanent a few years later.
The Times said it is unclear how much support a new subsidy would garner, since many lawmakers view farm programs as a likely source of budget savings.
Meanwhile, Politico suggests that the farm bill debate over the next few months promises to be a frantic time and notes the unusual politics behind the latest maneuvers:
For the House and Senate Agriculture committees, which had planned to write a new farm bill in 2012, it’s a nightmare situation in which their jurisdiction will be subject to cuts in advance, all written by a panel with little knowledge of farm policy. To reassert some control, the agriculture leadership opted to make a commitment of its own upfront together with the promise that it will provide detailed legislation to meet those goals.
“We decided the best defense is a good offense,” said one senior lawmaker, and the $23 billion target was judged both doable and roughly $7.5 billion more than anticipated cuts if the supercommittee fails and has to resort to a massive $1.2 trillion across-the-board reduction in 2013.