Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Senate approves U.S. farm bill

The Senate has voted 68-32 to pass the new five-year farm bill that will cost the United States treasury about $100 billion a year.

It does not end the new regulations for Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) that are hurting Canadian and Mexican cattle and hog farmers by making it more expensive for U.S. meat packers to process their livestock.

That depresses prices, costing Canadian hog farmers an estimated $1 billion a year and beef producers about $650 million a year.

The Canadian government, with support from those farmers, has filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization which has scheduled hearings for Feb. 18 and 19.

The new U.S. farm bill includes $80 billion for food stamps and similar programs to subsidize food for low-income people. One in seven Americans now garners some degree of support from the programs.

Republicans in the House wanted to cut the budget for those programs by five per cent, but in the end settled for a one per cent cut.

Democrats in the Senate wanted to boost budgets for programs that directly help farmers. In the end, they settled for an increase in crop insurance and price supports for rice and peanuts, but an end to “direct payments” which were based on acreage, regardless of what farmers did or did not grow on that land.

The bill now goes to President Barrack Obama who will almost certainly sign it into law.

The bill came two years after the previous five-year farm bill ran out. The sharp political differences between Republicans and Democrats made negotiations difficult.

The bill that was finally approved reflects the bargaining that took place to win votes; there are a number of budget items of particular interest to a politician who is wooing votes in his constituency.

Debbie Stabenow, a Republican from Michigan who chaired the House’s agriculture committee, said “we worked long and hard to make sure that policies worked for every region of the country, for all the different kinds of agriculture production we do in our country.”