Photo: Randy Pertiet (flickr)
At Long Last
The Senate on Tuesday voted 68 to 32 in favor of the 5-year bill, opening the way for President Barack Obama to sign the $1 trillion measure into law.
In a statement, US Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the legislation would achieve “meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for the taxpayer.”
“While no legislation is perfect, this bill is a strong investment in American agriculture and supports the continued global leadership of our farmers and ranchers,” he said.
The bill includes provisions for a broad range of agriculture programs, including dairy farming, land conservation and scaled-back food assistance for low-income Americans.
The Congressional Budget Office said the bill would reduce spending by $16.6 billion over the next decade.
But critics of the bill said reforms fell short.
Cuts in unpopular direct subsidies to farmers were offset with crop insurance programs, which watchdogs said could actually increase the overall cost to taxpayers. Dan Smith with the US Public Interest Research Groups called the move “political slight of hand” that would “continue to give handouts to large agribusinesses that don’t need our tax dollars.”
A study commissioned by the Environmental Working Group found that the new program could cost taxpayers $20 billion more than direct payments over the next 10 years if prices fell, and increases crop insurance by nearly $6 billion by allowing farm businesses to guarantee revenue.
“It is unfortunate the savings from ending direct payments will be plowed into the badly bloated crop insurance program, instead of helping to achieve real reforms that could have helped the neediest Americans and better protected our land and water,” said Craig Cox, the group’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources, in a statement.
The groups also blasted Congress for failing to place caps on insurance payments.
“Since 1995, just 4 percent of agribusinesses have made off with three quarters of the subsidies,” Smith said. “Yet the bill does next to nothing to reduce or eliminate subsidies for agribusinesses with high incomes.”