WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans have quietly maneuvered to prevent a House
spending bill from chipping away at federal farm subsidies, instead forging
ahead with much larger cuts to domestic and international food aid.
The GOP move will probably prevent up to $167 million in cuts in direct
payments to farmers, including some of the nation’s wealthiest. The
maneuver, along with the Senate’s refusal Tuesday to end a $5 billion annual
tax subsidy for ethanol-gasoline blends, illustrates just how difficult it
will be for Congress to come up with even a fraction of the trillions in
budget savings over the next decade that Republicans have promised.
Meanwhile, the annual bill to pay for food and farm programs next year would
cut food aid for low-income mothers and children by $685 million, about 10
percent below this year’s budget.
The farm subsidy cuts won bipartisan approval in the House Appropriations
Committee two weeks ago, but as debate on the House floor began Tuesday,
Republicans turned to a procedural maneuver to drop that language.
Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, the Republican chairman of the House
Agriculture Committee, won an agreement from party leaders to strike the
cuts in direct payments if just one member objected on the floor. Some
Democrats hope to force a vote but aren’t sure they will be able to.
“The takeaway from this is that nothing has changed with regard to farm
subsidies, it’s the same old, same old,” said Rep. Jim McGovern of
Massachusetts, a Democrat who has pushed to restore the money cut from food
Direct payments to farmers have been a frequent target of fiscal
conservatives and other critics of farm programs because they are paid
regardless of crop price or yield. They have survived for years, along with
tens of billions annually in other subsidies for farmers, because a powerful
coalition of farm state lawmakers in both parties has protected them.
While there has been consensus even among some farm-state members that
direct payments should be cut in the coming year to help reduce the deficit,
Republican leaders have been content so far to push off that debate and let
farm-state members on the House Agriculture Committee hash it out as part of
the next five-year farm bill in 2012..
Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., wrote the subsidy cut language. Farmers can now
make as much as $750,000 annually and still receive subsidies, but Flake’s
amendment would lower the threshold for some to $250,000, saving about $20
million annually. Another Flake amendment would have dipped into direct
payments to pay a $147 million annual payment the United States makes to
Brazil as a settlement in a World Trade Organization dispute over cotton
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., won an amendment in the Appropriations Committee
version that would shift the Brazil money to the Women, Infants and Children
program. It, too, can be axed through a parliamentary challenge approved by
the GOP leadership-controlled Rules Committee.
DeLauro, McGovern and other Democrats argued on the House floor Tuesday that
the cuts to in food aid programs are reckless and should be restored.
Republicans responded that the Women, Infants and Children program is flush
The bill also would cut the Food and Drug Administration’s $2.5 billion
budget by almost 12 percent, straining the agency’s ability to implement a
new food safety law signed by President Barack Obama earlier this year.