With all of the enemies the farm bill has, who needs friends? One of the techniques those in the United States Senate who are anti-farm bill use is the complaint that its provisions are not “transparent” enough.
In fact, in the final days of the senate’s fight over farm bill provisions, several senators have said they believe the so-called agricultural safety net needs to be far more transparent. Others say making it so will actually cause reductions in transparency.
The big rub seems to be, as The Huffington Post reported, that 15 members of Congress or their spouses received $237,921 in federal farm subsidy payments last year. The data came from an analysis provided by the Environmental Working Group. Transparency would be lost if, in the new bill, lawmakers make it less obvious who amongst them received subsidies and how much they received.
The Environmental Working Group is peeved because the new bill would list those subsidized, but meanwhile, most farmers have switched from direct subsidies to crop insurance payments. Those are not listed. So, a big receiver of subsidies last year could, instead, be a big utili-zer of crop insurance this year, thereby reducing his or her transparency in regard to federal bucks received.
The Huffington Post said most direct payments are eliminated in both the House and Senate versions of the bill, and most farms will be enrolled, instead, in the federal crop insurance program with premiums heavily subsidized by the USDA. Farmers going that route will be listed in official records but the government, unlike with regular subsidies, will not divulge who signs up for the insurance.
Environmental Working Group’s Scott Faber told The Huffington Post, “Although much ballyhooed, the end of direct payments heralds the replacement of an inequitable and transparent safety net with a more inequitable and less transparent safety net. Crop insurance subsidies have no limits on who can receive them and the amount they can receive.”
The receivers of crop insurance subsidies are listed by the government, but the list cannot be used to provide a breakdown on individual receivers or how many members of Congress benefit from the new program they plan on enacting. Meanwhile, The Huffington Post reported, the Farm Bureau is opposed to revealing names of individuals receiving the subsidies. The FB leadership believes the information is available widely in the aggregate, and no breakdown is needed.
However, those favoring such a listing point out that the aggregate list cannot be used by reporters and advocacy groups to show how the payment system is used, and they anxiously point out that members of Congress and their spouses are not revealed, so there is little gain in transparency between the old and new farm bills.
In noting inequities in the reporting system, The Huffington Post said U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn) and his wife received $70,574 in direct payments last year. This would not be revealed under the new bill. Fincher, by the way, is the congressman that stirred up a hornet’s nest during the House farm bill debate by saying that lawmakers should cut spending on food stamps because they shouldn’t use other people’s money to feed the hungry.
I’ll see ya.
An Iowa native, Peter Graham has been a rural newspaper editor for more than 40 years. He currently edits a twice-weekly paper in Western Iowa. You can contact him at (712) 642-2791 or [email protected] sourivalley times.com.