Photo: Pete Zarria (via Flickr)
Trimming Wasteful Spending
During President Obama’s speech about the economy in his recent televised town hall meeting, he confronted farm subsidies. Under his proposed plan, farmers who make more than $250,000 in annual income will not be able to receive federally supported farm substitutes.
The President says that limiting who can receive farm subsidies will protect small farmers while not wasting government money by giving it to large agribusiness farmers who don’t need it.
“Part of what we want to do is to make sure that help is going to family farms in crisis situations. Drought, disaster and so forth,” said Mr. Obama, “that we’re not just giving ongoing subsidies to big agribusiness, which is the way that a lot of our farm programs work right now.”
This change could save the government $9.7 billion over a period of ten years.
A History of Resistance
Obama’s plan has met resistance from many areas of the political spectrum.
Farm lobbyists like the National Farmer’s Union fiercely oppose the measure. They argue that limiting who gets farm subsidies will not save the government as much money as it anticipates (hundreds of millions of dollars instead of the billions that are predicted), and will hurt medium-size farms more than corporate agribusiness.
Other presidents – including President George W Bush in 2007 – have tried to cut farm subsidies before, but also to no avail.
Farm subsidies are backed by a powerful combination of history and bipartisan support. Congressmen are quick to defend their state’s agricultural interests regardless of their political affiliation, and the farm subsidies have been part of the nation’s agricultural political framework since the Jeffersonian Agricultural Ideal.
Even some organizations that have pushed for ending farm subsidies say that the timing and presentation of President Obama’s proposal hurt its chances of success. Ken Cook from the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit that has fought against farm subsidies, said that it may have alienated those who supported Obama’s reform agenda. Cook says that the president’s administration should have strengthened innovations in climate change and healthcare instead of attacking the farm subsidy system.
Keeping In Touch
Administration officials argue that Obama’s plan to reduce farm subsidies is in line with his other goals, because even though this proposal was defeated by the Budget Committees, the same Budget Committees adopted resolutions to protect health care, energy, and education spending.
The Obama administration intends to continue conversation about reducing the federal deficit by limiting farm subsidies to find the best way to “support rural America and get some savings and efficiencies out of agricultural programs.”