July 14, 2007


Democrats Divided Over Farm Bill Changes: Despite Wish to Reduce Subsidies, Leaders Worry About Freshmen in 'Red' States (Dan Morgan, 7/14/07, The Washington Post)

[Ohio Democrat Zack] Space's resistance to change highlights the struggle within the Democratic Party as the farm bill moves to center stage on Congress's legislative agenda. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) have told Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin C. Peterson (D-Minn.) that they will not support a "status quo" bill.

A coalition of Democratic-leaning environmental organizations, anti-poverty groups and church organizations are pushing to redirect some subsidies to conservation, wetlands preservation, rural development and nutrition. But top Democrats are reluctant to push too hard for changes that could put at risk Democratic freshmen from "red" states, which backed President Bush's reelection in 2004 and where the farm vote is still a factor in close elections.

At stake in the new farm bill are billions of dollars affecting the fortunes of farmers, as well as groups that include soft-drink manufacturers using corn sweeteners and poor families relying on food stamps. In 2006, more than 475 organizations reported lobbying on agricultural issues, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The programs currently in effect are set to expire on Sept. 30. Under the proposed bill, $80 billion over the next 10 years would go to price guarantees, income supports, disaster payments and other benefits for farmers. An additional $690 billion is slated for programs such as food stamps, child nutrition, conservation, agricultural research, rural development, and bio-fuel research and development. The tensions within the Democratic Party have strengthened the hand of the farm bloc in the House and led to frictions with the Bush administration, which has joined the effort to make changes in the safety net for farmers.

Yesterday, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns sent a letter to Peterson saying he "cannot support a farm bill that ignores the need for reform." He said Peterson's bill relies on "budget gimmicks" to arrive at projected savings.

Red State Democrats weren't elected to "help" the poor.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 14, 2007 7:07 AM
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