God's Politics

God's Politics


Adam Taylor: The Farm Bill and the Common Good

posted by God's Politics

Last Friday the House passed a 741-page Farm Bill, largely keeping intact the existing system of subsidies for commercial farmers while adding billions of dollars for conservation, nutrition, and new agricultural sectors. While Democratic leaders will call this a success, the bill demonstrates the brokenness of our politics in which the common good is so often sacrificed to political expediency and powerful corporate interests.
The Farm Bill is a massive, complicated piece of legislation that addresses everything from nutrition programs to commodity subsidies to rural development. It symbolizes the crisis facing American farmers, who are captive to a rhetoric-filled battle over how best to preserve their livelihoods. However, rather than protecting the livelihoods of small farmers, this current bill goes to even greater lengths to provide a form of corporate welfare to large commercial farms and agribusinesses.
Late Friday morning, House lawmakers defeated an amendment sponsored by Representatives Kind (D-Wis.) and Flake (R-Ariz.), which provided desperately needed reforms to this deeply flawed bill. The Kind/Flake Amendment would have made crucial reforms by denying subsidies to large commercial farmers with an average adjusted gross income greater than $500,000 and limiting annual subsidies to $250,000 per person. The savings would be redirected to fight hunger, protect the environment, and help poor farmers.
Instead, billions of dollars of price support subsidies will go to commodities such as wheat, soybeans, and cotton, resulting in one of the greatest heresies in the religion of free trade, let alone fair trade. These subsidies lead to overproduction and distort prices on the international market, making it almost impossible for poor farmers across the developing world to compete and earn their way out of poverty. Ironically, the interests of the small cotton farmer in South Carolina are much more aligned with poor farmers in Africa than with the agribusinesses and large commercial farms that keep winning the lion’s share of Farm Bill benefits.
In order to win sufficient support, the Agriculture Committee loaded the bill with billions of dollars for nutrition programs, conservation, black farmers, and Florida and California fruit and vegetable industries. However, Democratic leaders were unwilling to defy corporate pressure and overhaul the corporate welfare of commodity subsidies.
The Farm Bill exposes a clash between the pragmatic politics of compromise and incremental change with the prophetic politics of the common good. Congress was caught between advocates for reform, including a broad faith-based coalition, and the heavily financed commercial farms whose power in 20 congressional districts dominates the debate. This outcome in the House illustrates the brokenness of a political process in which corporate interests too often drown out the voices of faith-based and civic advocates. It also demonstrates the urgent need to reclaim our democracy on behalf of the common good.
Prophets such as Amos, Isaiah, and Ezekiel didn’t mince words or withhold prophetic judgment when leaders advanced the interests of the strong over the welfare of the weak. With our pastoral side we can sympathize with elected officials who are trying to do the right thing—balancing the interests of multiple stakeholders while facing real and perceived constraints around what’s politically possible. However, our prophetic vocation calls us to hold elected officials to a higher standard and change the very parameters within which these policy decisions are made, one that privileges and protects the interests of the weak and dispossessed—in this case, small farmers at home and abroad.
Fortunately, the debate around the Farm Bill now moves to the Senate, giving us another chance to fight for the common good. But senators must believe there’s a real political cost to preserving the status quo, and the prophetic voice must overpower the voice of lobbyists representing commercial farms and agribusinesses.

Adam Taylor is director of campaigns and organizing for Sojourners/Call to Renewal.



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justintime

posted August 2, 2007 at 11:29 am


US agriculture policy is just another form of corporate welfare.
Any comments about subsidizing corporate agriculture from the free market Friedmanites on this blog ?



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kevin s.

posted August 2, 2007 at 12:47 pm


The farm bill is a huge bureaucratic mess and farm subsidies of all kinds should be abolished.



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Eric

posted August 2, 2007 at 1:49 pm


Our Ag policy is pretty warped. Good job Adam in taking the Democrats and big Ag businesses to task on this one. It’s ridiculous that we have federal regulations and laws that favor factory farming and big Ag businesses over small businesses.



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Al Shaw

posted August 2, 2007 at 1:49 pm


A prediction: progressive Christians in 10 years time will be increasingly growing their own food and pioneering urban community-based food growing projects.
As well as action at a corporate and legislative level, local and household based initiative are a necessary response to the injustices inherent in the industrialization of food production in the West.



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Ngchen

posted August 2, 2007 at 2:21 pm


It’s true that farm subsidies are neither free nor fair trade. And no one has explained why they should exist. So yes, I agree with Kevin S that they should be phased-out/abolished.



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justintime

posted August 2, 2007 at 2:49 pm


By the way, America’s health care system
is yet another form of corporate welfare.



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Eric

posted August 2, 2007 at 3:52 pm


justintime – the only reason that you consider America’s health care system corporate welfare is because the government decided to get involved. If it hadn’t gotten involved, there’d be no corporate welfare.
What does this have to do with Adam’s post anyway?
Al Shaw – progressive and conservative Christians are already doing this today. You don’t have to wait 10 years for this.



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Thierry Reiter

posted August 2, 2007 at 4:05 pm


Thank you Adam for an excellent job on the Farm Bill. Please let us know how this is wending its way through the Senate.



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elizabeth

posted August 2, 2007 at 4:09 pm


I recently read two books that got me interested in the farm bill. I’d recommend both for those who want to learn more about food policy and potential solutions to this mess:
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
Hope’s Edge by Frances Moore Lappe
Thanks for this article, Adam!



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jurisnaturalist

posted August 2, 2007 at 4:39 pm


Al Shaw,
Your prediction may be borne out if these subsidies are not stopped. They serve in the long run to raise the price of agriculture, and hurt the least of these at the grocery store. We ought to oppose all forms of political favoritism, for the rich and the poor. Instead the law ought to be restricted to protection of rights and enforcement of contract.
But, if things should go sour, the church must rise up to grow its own food for the sake of the least of these.
By the way, did anyone else see the list of over 1,000 Economics professors who signed a letter to the congress asking it to not install tariffs against China? I saw several names of people I know personally on that list.
Nathanael Snow



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Wolverine

posted August 2, 2007 at 4:46 pm


Adam Taylor wrote:
However, Democratic leaders were unwilling to defy corporate pressure and overhaul the corporate welfare of commodity subsidies.
What Mr. Taylor neglects to mention is that Republicans were willing to defy corporate pressure and overhaul the corporate welfare of commodity subsidies. Democrats voted to pass the bill 212-14. Republicans were opposed, 177-19
So, here we have a case where corporate interests are overwhelmingly in favor of continuing a government program without reforms. We have a government program that whether intended to or not has been distorted into a subsidy for the wealthy at the expense of low-income farmers. We have a reform movement that involves a fairly high number of free-market conservatives — Rep. Flake has a definite libertarian take on things.
Now I’m not expecting Sojo or Adam Taylor to have a Road to Emmaus conversion to free-market conservatism, but it would be nice if he could acknowledge that in this instance the free-market critique has been borne out by facts on the ground, and that on this issue the GOP is largely on the side of the Prophets.
Wolverine



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Gary Denton

posted August 2, 2007 at 4:58 pm


What wolverine, who does seem to be a Republican animal, neglects to point out is that the Republicans were in favor of the large agri-business subsidies. They opposed the bill only when a food-stamp program increase paid for by a tax increase on foreign-owned corporations was added to the bill.



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Wolverine

posted August 2, 2007 at 5:46 pm


Gary,
Maybe. It’s true that the GOP has been inconsistent on farm subsidies in the past. It would be nice if you could show me a recent roll-call where Republicans were in favor of this bill. I can definitely show you a roll-call where they were firmly opposed.
Moving beyond the purely partisan, I can also show you a lot of important conservative groups that were sharply critical of the farm subsidies in this bill.
At some point you do have to ask, in the words of Janet Jackson, “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” On the last vote, the GOP was largely opposed to the farm bill while the Democrats were overwhelmingly in favor. That’s just a fact and it’s one that Sojo should acknowledge.
Wolverine



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Farm Bill Girl

posted August 2, 2007 at 8:25 pm


Sojourners has been coopted by Business Roundtable and Club for Growth.
As an evangelical Christian and longtime supporterr, I do not doubt their sincerity on this, but the radical deregulation policies they propose are supported by Club for Growth and the corporate free traders. All of them wanting to reduce subsidies in the name of “trade distortions.” never mind that free trade is what is killing farmers all over the world! we need a supply management system and a fair price to farmers, not a radical deregulatory scheme.
subsidies ARE corporate welfare, but mainly because ADM, Cargill and Tyson get access to cheap feed and corn, while taxpayers bail out farmers.
i have been posting some diaries at DailyKos to correct what i think are the misguided (yet well-intentioned) assumptions from the progressive faith community.
http://www.dailykos.com/user/Farm%20Bill%20Girl



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Anonymous

posted August 2, 2007 at 10:53 pm


Eric says: “justintime – the only reason that you consider America’s health care system corporate welfare is because the government decided to get involved. If it hadn’t gotten involved, there’d be no corporate welfare.”
Eric,
The reason America’s health care system is broken is health insurance and pharmaceutical corporations are allowed to extract obscene profits at the expense of American taxpayers, while jeopardizing the health of American citizens and ignoring 45 million uninsured Americans.
These corporations bribe our political leaders to allow the outrage to continue.
If our health care system were not infected with corporate greed we could have cost effective universal health care in America – the best in the world.
Our government needs to get more involved, not less involved in our health care system.



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justintime

posted August 3, 2007 at 12:06 am


Eric says: “What does this have to do with Adam’s post anyway?”
Eric,
US farm policy and America’s health care system are both infected with corporate greed.
Corporate interests lobby and bribe our political leaders for ignoring America’s Common Good and keeping these corporate welfare programs in place.
Publicly funding political campaigning while banning corporate bribery is essential to remove corporate corruption from our government.
If our political leaders are insulated from undue corporate influence, both agriculture policy AND our health care system can be made more effective.
Until this happens, both agriculture and the health care system will remain a bureaucratic mess.



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John Crabtree

posted August 3, 2007 at 1:48 am


Wolverine, for a recent show of Republican support of the House farm bill, look at the vote in the House Agriculture Committee where it passed unanimously.
The Republican caucus got bent out of shape about what they viewed as a tax increase on, you guessed it, large corporations.
Lest you think I’m shilling for the Democrats on this, I will agree with you that the Democratic leadership sold out on this farm bill and took almost all of their members with them.
My point is, the hypocrisy is bipartisan. Rep. Collin Peterson, the House Ag Committee chair, sacrificed (as Adam so aptly described) the common good for political expediency and the worst of modern political motivations.
Speaker Pelosi, Rules Committee Chair Louise Slaughter and Ag Chair Peterson could have allowed an amendment offered by Rep. Ryan (R-WI) and Rep. Blumenauer to provide strong, effective limits on farm program payments – hard caps without all the loopholes that are used to evade current payment limits. But, alas, the Democratic leaders did not want reform that would stop unlimited farm payments that the nation’s largest farms use to drive their smaller neighbors out of business.
The did not rule the Ryan/Blumenauer payment limits amendment in order, did not allow debate on payment limits and did not allow a vote on what could have been an actual reform in farm programs that would make a real difference in rural America AND save taxpayer dollars. Nope, they shilled for the Cotton Council and the other corporate ag interests at the expense of family farmers, rural communities and taxpayers.



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Anonymous

posted August 3, 2007 at 2:01 am


“Publicly funding political campaigning while banning corporate bribery is essential to remove corporate corruption from our government”
Publicly funding political campaigning amounts to politicians funding their own re-election campaigns. Why is this inherently more beneficial than privately funded campaigns.
“Sojourners has been coopted by Business Roundtable and Club for Growth.”
No it hasn’t.
“subsidies ARE corporate welfare, but mainly because ADM, Cargill and Tyson get access to cheap feed and corn, while taxpayers bail out farmers.”
Did you read the post?
“If our health care system were not infected with corporate greed we could have cost effective universal health care in America – the best in the world.”
What makes you say this?



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Eric

posted August 3, 2007 at 7:18 am


To the guy who didn’t write in his name – What you said doesn’t refute a single thing I said. Justinintime was complaining about corporate welfare in our health care system and I responded that there will always be corporate welfare (the gov’t subsidizing private businesses) as long as the gov’t is involved in delivering health care.
Unless you want to have a model where the gov’t employs every single health care worker in the country and sets prices, wages, and supply of health care (which is something very few but the ardent communists want), you’re going to end up with the gov’t subsidizing business.



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Korey

posted August 3, 2007 at 8:43 am


Wolverine: the “GOP is largely on the side of the Prophets”…
I suspect the republican vote wasn’t quite for the righteous reasons you imply. 151 of your republicans voted against the kind/flake amendment, as did 158 democrats. Both parties are corrupt. The Davis (D-IL) amendment also received bipartisan support (53 democrats, 91 republicans), but was overwhelmingly defeated in a bipartisan manner… Makes me wonder what it was for?



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Anonymous

posted August 3, 2007 at 9:50 am


Eric says:
“Unless you want to have a model where the gov’t employs every single health care worker in the country and sets prices, wages, and supply of health care (which is something very few but the ardent communists want), you’re going to end up with the gov’t subsidizing business.”
Americans want universal health care without profiteering by health insurance corporations – just like the universal health care enjoyed by the
rest of the industrialized world – only better.
Does Eric have a plan for universal health care coverage?
No.
Is the rest of the industrialized world communist? No.
Is Eric trapped in the cold war era?
Sounds like it.



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kevin s.

posted August 3, 2007 at 10:00 am


“Americans want universal health care”
No we don’t.



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Eric

posted August 3, 2007 at 10:11 am


Dude With No Name – I’m not familiar with the latest polls on the issue, but I’ll grant it to you that a majority of Americans say they’d like some sort of “universal health care.”
But if you want universal health care without subsidies going to private businesses you’re advocating for the government setting prices, wages, and supply. There’s no way around that. You’re mistaken if you think that other industrialized countries supply universal health care to their citizens without subsidies for private businesses. Only countries that completely outlaw private health insurance have avoided them and I definitely would consider such a policy as Communist or at least dictatorial.
Does the Dude With No Name have a plan for universal health coverage that’s more than just a slogan?



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justintime

posted August 3, 2007 at 12:38 pm


Kevin:
You and Eric should go watch ‘Sicko’.
I’ll reimburse the cost of your tickets.



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Anonymous

posted August 3, 2007 at 12:48 pm


“Americans want universal health care”
Kevin: No we don’t.
Speak for yourself, Kevin.
“Poll Shows Majority Back Health Care for All”
New York Times
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/01/washington/01cnd-poll.html?ex=1186286400&en=e779fca423b0f05f&ei=5070



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Dude with no name

posted August 3, 2007 at 1:01 pm


Eric: “Does the Dude With No Name have a plan for universal health coverage that’s more than just a slogan?”
Eric: Many workable plans are already in operation throughout the industrialized world.
America is the only industrialized nation that doesn’t have one.
The reason why we don’t have universal health care in America is because conservative Republicans like yourself would rather have an easily exploitable cheap labor pool without access to affordable health care and desperate for jobs.
Conservative Republicans are OK with corporations gouging the American health care system.
Open season on the American taxpayer.
It’s a ‘free market’, right?



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Eric

posted August 3, 2007 at 1:06 pm


Justintime – I’m glad you’ve abandoned your agrument that the solution to health care subsidies for private businesses is more government intervention.
If you send me $9 I’ll make to go to the theater. Actually, send me $36 and I’ll bring some friends too.



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Eric

posted August 3, 2007 at 1:13 pm


Dude – Your ignorance is showing when you completely ignore the bulk of our prior discussion and make silly accusations like I want a pool of cheap labor for my big business. Yes, you’ve got me nailed there. That’s exactly why I’m opposed to the government controlling my health care. Such an erudite argument you’ve made.



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justintime

posted August 3, 2007 at 1:22 pm


Eric,
I’ll reimburse if you write an original (no plagiarism allowed) critique as proof you’ve actually watched Sicko.
Your friends pay their own way.
No way have I abandoned the argument that government needs to get more involved in America’s health care system.



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kevin s.

posted August 3, 2007 at 2:51 pm


“You and Eric should go watch ‘Sicko’.
I’ll reimburse the cost of your tickets.”
No thank you.
“”Poll Shows Majority Back Health Care for All”
New York Times”
Yeah, and they’re even willing to pay $500 per year for it… That’s realistic.
I want a Lexus. I’d even be willing to pay $3,000 for one.
“Conservative Republicans are OK with corporations gouging the American health care system.”
Universal Health Care won’t make the labor pool more expensive.



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justintime

posted August 3, 2007 at 3:14 pm


Start making sense, Kevin.



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dude

posted August 3, 2007 at 3:27 pm


Who controls your health care right now, Eric?
Are you happy with your health plan?



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kevin s.

posted August 4, 2007 at 1:10 am


“Start making sense, Kevin.”
Sorry. I’ll stop actually reading the articles to which you direct us, and simply assume that they compellingly make your point for you



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jerry

posted August 5, 2007 at 9:24 am


well stated adam taylor.. the corruptness of all our politicians shows up on this issue. vote the rascals out!!!!!



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