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Policy ‘experts’ vent frustration over extension vote

Ken Cook was livid. You could almost see the anger dripping off the page as the Environmental Working Group president ripped into a House subcommittee for rejecting stricter payment limits.

The object of Cook’s ire – and that of other Beltway farm policy “experts” – was a June 19 vote by the House General Farm Commodities Subcommittee to extend the commodity title of the current farm bill for five years.

What really set Cook and the Environmental Defense’s Scott Faber and others off was the subcommittee’s refusal to adopt new payment limit language or other legislation that would radically overhaul farm programs when it marked up the commodity title on June 19.

Moments after the subcommittee vote, Cook issued a press release slamming the subcommittee for voting to extend what he termed the “unfair, dysfunctional” farm subsidies in the 2002 farm bill.

“The subcommittee couldn’t even bring itself to protect taxpayers by tightening limits on federal payments to the largest, wealthiest subsidized farming operations in the country,” said Cook, whose EWG has posted thousands of names of farm program recipients on the Internet.

Cook noted the districts represented by the 18 members on the subcommittee received $8.2 billion in crop subsidies from 2003 to 2005. (In his new blog, “The Ruminant,” Faber put the total at more than $10 billion.)

Faber called the vote “about as surprising as mold growing in a wet basement, ” and suggested subcommittee members might like to give their farmers freedom to farm the treasury, a reference to comparisons of an amendment authored by Reps. Ron Kind, D-Wis., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., to Freedom to Farm.

In his weekly telephone new conference, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson took the venting by Cook, Faber and others in stride.

Asked about the subcommittee’s decision to scrub an overhaul of the bill, Peterson said it came down to two words: “payment limits.” The language in the discussion draft was more than they could stomach,” he said.

“I think the subcommittee sent a resounding message to the reformers that they’re not ready to go there yet,” he said, adding he thinks it’s disingenuous for them to keep beating up cotton and rice farmers over big payments.

“A lot of the big numbers are because of commodity certificates,” he said. “The Ron Kinds of the world are the ones who should be blamed for this, not the farmers. They’re the ones who voted for trade agreements that allowed the U.S. textile industry to move to China.”

Cotton farmers are making adjustments and switching to corn, he said. But Congress needs to maintain the ability for growers to transition to other opportunities to maintain the ability to produce food in this country.

“If the Ron Kinds and the other reformers are successful, what they will do, in my opinion, is destroy production agriculture,” he said. “We can’t afford to lose these farmers, and that’s what could happen if people pushing these reforms have their way.”

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