Libertarian and environmental groups unite against five-year farm bill

By Sarah Gonzalez

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WASHINGTON, Dec. 10, 2012- Conservative and taxpayer groups joined the Environmental Working Group (EWG) today to oppose passage of a five-year farm bill during the lame duck session as an attachment to a fiscal cliff package.

“The time to pass a farm bill has come and gone,” said Scott Faber, EWG's vice president of government affairs. “Congress should pass a fiscally responsible one-year extension of farm and food programs and allow the House to debate the future of farm subsidies.”

During a press conference titled, “No Secret Farm Bill in Fiscal Cliff Deal,” several speakers requested that Congress pass a one-year extension of current policy, but eliminate direct payments as a “down payment” toward deficit reduction.

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“A five-year bill will have sweeping fiscal, social and environmental impacts and should be the result of careful and transparent deliberation. In our view, this Congress simply does not have the time to undertake such legislation this year,” according to an open letter to members of the House sent last month, signed by several groups including Americans for Prosperity, Club for Growth, Americans for Tax Reform and Heritage Action for America. 

The groups represented today claim the proposed farm bill would cost $1 trillion over the next ten years, and would exceed its Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score as did the previous two farm bills.

CBO estimates the House Agriculture Committee's farm bill would save more than $35 billion and the Senate bill would save more than $23 billion, with an overall cost of around $960 billion over ten years.

“Our groups may not agree on many things. But, we are united in our view that it would be unconscionable for our nation's leaders to bypass the House and attach a $1 trillion farm bill to legislation designed to right the nation's finances,” Faber said. 

Steve Ellis, Vice President of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said farm bill reforms slated for this year “save too little, preserve ridiculous crop insurance subsidies and create new entitlement programs,” calling it the “height of fiscal irresponsibility.”

Vince Smith, Co-Director of American Enterprise Institute's Agricultural Policy Initiative and professor of agriculture economics at Montana State University, said although both bills passed by the Senate and House Agriculture Committee eliminate direct payments for savings, they also create new Title I “entitlement programs.” He referred to the price loss coverage option in the House Agriculture Committee's bill and the Senate's Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program as adding unnecessarily to farm program spending.

Smith also said the proposed changes would expand WTO problems by providing an incentive to plant more acres, since “these new programs are tied to agricultural production.”  

The R Street Institute's Andrew Moylan said he prefers a full farm bill process next year that results in no shallow loss programs, reforms crop insurance subsidies and adds “taxpayer protections.” He said he'd like to see much more than the $20-30 billion in savings suggested by the Senate and House Agriculture Committee, as well as more significant policy reforms. 

“As we stand here, we have record farm incomes, record commodity prices and record fiscal problems,” he said. “This is an equation that says we ought to take a serious look at reducing farm subsidies.”

The group suggested attaching five-year farm policy to a fiscal cliff package would result in a “secret farm bill” not exposed to the House floor process. However, Moylan noted that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, “is traditionally not a fan of these pork-laden farm bills,” which may be an “important element of a farm bill not passing yet,” recognizing that House leadership blocked the opportunity to debate the farm bill on the floor this year. 

Moylan laid out a vision for the groups' farm bill requests, adding that “if the full House gets to debate and amend the bill, it's better for taxpayers.” He said a one-year extension would eliminate direct payments to provide a “down payment” for next year, when he envisions a “larger savings target.”

“This is a bill unlike any other, which is a big reason folks from across the political spectrum are here today,” Moylan concluded.

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