Little enthusiasm for farm bill passed by House committee

by Morton Sosland
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For legislation that has a five-year life and thus should be the subject of utmost deliberation in its rewriting, the farm bill that is now being actively considered in the House hardly reflects the careful drafting that is obviously merited. In the case of wheat, where bakers and millers have joined to urge steps to remove unnecessary restraints on plantings, the measure proposed by the Democratic chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture reflects no understanding of how conservation provisions may create a calamitous situation. Indeed, the proposed "farm bill"makes few revisions of importance to grain-based foods, leaving provisions enacted in 2002 largely intact.

That failure to embrace "reform" has prompted attacks on the measure. Everyone from the White House to organizations of food processors, from sugar users to some producer organizations, have chosen to express harsh criticism. A substitute bill unsuccessfully put forward by opponents of the committee’s measure would impose new limits on federal payments to individual farmers, would cut back supports for basic commodities, and would provide new supports for fruit and vegetable crops.

The committee chair has warned that pressure for such changes will cause him to come out in favor of simply extending the 2002 act, as if such a move would be the worst of all outcomes. An overall lack of enthusiasm should not be seen as meaning the committee’s bill has only scant chance of enactment. Farm legislation, even of the most outrageous sort, has a life of its own, as witness what happened five years ago.