Who has the best lights in town? Vote now for your favorite in our holiday lights contest.
The Senate measure isn’t perfect but is a reasonable effort to address subsidies and food stamps.
Thursday, June 13, 2013
The farm bill passed by the Senate Monday has the grizzled bearing of an old-school deal. A handful of reforms added a bounce to its gait as it passed with a bipartisan majority of 66-27, but the warts are still visible.
As with past farm bills, urban senators fretted over farm subsidies, while their rural colleagues gasped at food aid costs, but sufficient numbers of both groups found enough good in the measure to give it their support. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., voted for the legislation; Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., was absent due to a personal matter but has worked to better the bill.
Perhaps the most significant improvement in the legislation is the elimination of a program that pays about $5 billion annually in direct payments to farmers and farmland owners whether or not they grew crops in a given year. But some of those recipients will simply shift to a crop insurance program that critics warn could be more costly in the long term. The insurance is sold by private companies, but the government program subsidizes 62 percent of the premiums. Senators tapped the brakes on insurance costs by eliminating benefits for farmers making more than $750,000 a year and requiring recipients to participate in soil conservation programs.
The Senate bill also cuts about $400 million a year from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps, which has a total budget of $80 billion a year.
Senators recognized they could not shield the program from cuts as they seek to rein in federal spending. SNAP has doubled since the recession and now serves 45 million Americans.
The cuts may not be enough to satisfy leaders in the House of Representatives, who plan to take up their own bill this month. The House Agriculture Committee recently called for $2 billion in food aid cuts annually, exceeding the proposed reductions that led to the failure of last year’s farm bill. Farm programs and SNAP are now operating under a one-year extension of the old law.
If the House version prevails, about 2 million people would lose food stamps. Of those, 210,000 children would become ineligible for free school lunches as well.
There’s also the possibility that a push for deeper cuts will dispatch this year’s farm bill to the same trash heap where the 2012 version now rests. That would certainly fit with the new-school way of thinking that has gripped Washington in recent days. But it could also leave in place a law that all agree has outstayed its welcome. Given that potential, House leaders would be wise to consider an old school revival in 2013.
Weather JournalMix on Sat AM; coming blog changes