Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Veto the Farm Bill!

James Skillen


May 6, 2002

President Bush is anxious to see progress on his domestic agenda as well as on the "war against terrorism." That may be why he has indicated he will sign the 2002 farm bill Congress is expected to send him this week. But if the president truly wants to succeed and show leadership, he should veto the bill. Why?

1. The president says he supports free-market economics, but this bill reverses the 1996 farm bill that had begun to push farmers from dependency on federal crop-support payments to greater market responsibility. As Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Rep. Cal Dooley (D-Calif.) point out, the new farm bill adds billions of dollars of subsidies that will only increase economically irresponsible dependency. Quite a contrast to Washington's continuing welfare reforms to further reduce dependency of the poor on government handouts (Washington Post, 5/2/02).

2. The president and many members of Congress have argued that the federal government must be fiscally responsible and hold down spending. In this bill, however, according to Boehner and Dooley, Congress has increased new and expanded farm programs by a staggering 76 percent. This "display of greed" (as the Post's editors call it—5/2/02) "tarnishes the reputation of all implicated—notably Tom Daschle, the Senate Democratic leader."

3. The farm bill violates or threatens to violate the international trade commitments the United States has made. For decades the U.S. criticized Europe's big farm subsidies and argued that only through free trade can developing nations advance their agriculture programs. The 1996 farm bill took a big step in this direction, but the 2002 bill will expose nothing less than super-power hypocrisy. European Union agriculture commissioner Franz Fischler says, "At a time when all developed countries have accepted the direction of farm support away from trade- and production-distorting measures, the U.S. is doing an about turn and heading in the opposite direction" (Paul Blustein and Dan Morgan, Post, 5/2/02).

4. Instead of helping the people in farm states, this bill will actually make things worse for most of them, because the government handouts go mostly to the wealthiest and biggest farms, not to the small and medium size farms. In earlier House and Senate versions of the bill, caps were proposed for the amount that could go to any single farmer, but those caps are apparently being dropped in the final bill. Some giant agribusinesses will receive hundreds of thousands of dollars from the federal government, giving them even more ability to buy out smaller farms that can't compete. Chuck Hassebrook of the Center for Rural Affairs points to the crisis in rural America where 81 percent of farmers polled in 27 states said that they are in favor of federal income support payments only if they are targeted to small farms (Post, 4/14/02).

5. The new bill disadvantages the poorest people in the world while subsidizing the richest. As Blustein and Morgan explain, "by giving American farmers no incentives to curtail their output at a time of slack global demand, the bill may depress prices worldwide for many products and hurt the most impoverished nations." "What it does," says Oxfam America's Jo Marie Griesgraber, "is promote products so that we can sell them below market prices overseas, and put poorer producers out of work—people for whom this is a life and death matter" (Post, 5/2/02).

6. Finally, the bill does little to advance long-term conservation and environmental protections. Short-term, fat-cat greediness is apparent in the fact that the House's original bill set aside a mere $1.6 billion annually and the Senate's bill $2.4 billion annually for conservation, but when the two houses finished reconciling their bills, the agreement was for only $1.4 billion a year! Some compromise.

It's time to prove your domestic leadership, Mr. President. Veto this bill!

—James W. Skillen, President
    Center for Public Justice

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”