Food Stamps Versus Peanuts Redux

I suggested in a post a couple of weeks ago that House consideration of the latest multi-year Farm Bill might come down to a conservative coalition of ideologues determined to slash food stamps and subsidy-seekers determined to keep special privileges for wealthy growers of certain crops like peanuts and rice.

And that’s how it’s playing out so far, in the account provided by The Hill‘s Erick Wasson:

The leaders of the House Agriculture Committee on Thursday released a draft 2012 farm bill that cuts direct spending by $35 billion, about $11 billion more than a Senate-passed bill.

The five-year bill would authorize farm subsidies, conservation programs, crop insurance and food stamp spending and is expected to be scored as costing in excess of $900 billion over 10 years.

House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and ranking member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) have both signed off on the bill, which includes much deeper cuts to food stamps than the Senate bill.

The Senate found more than $4 billion in savings from the food stamps program, but the Lucas-Peterson bill gets more than $16 billion, according to the committee. Liberal Senate Democrats tried but failed to remove the Senate cuts….

On farm subsidies, as expected, the farm bill contains added price-based support for Southern rice and peanut farmers, providing an “equitable” subsidy system, in the words of Lucas.

Even with the deeper cuts, moving a farm-bill through the fiscally conservative House is likely to be difficult. The House budget called for food stamps to be cut by $134 billion over 10 years by block granting the program entirely to the states.

Deficit hawks are already crying foul about the target price-based system and the inclusion of the expanded crop insurance.

“They are jacking up the target price for each commodity, which is utterly ridiculous,” said Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense. “Farm businesses have been doing great and raking in the profits for the last several years. So, the House response is to turn around and increases target prices to practically guarantee growers a profit?”

So you got a potentially budget-busting bill that privileges high-end crop subsidies over food stamps and conservatives demanding more food stamp cuts. Perhaps Senate Democrats will force Republicans to put their money where their mouths are and cut a little deeper in subsidies for rich and/or corporate farmers, but I’m not optimistic about how well food stamp recipients–notably the “working poor” who are suffering so much in the current economic environment–will fare when the final deal goes down.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.