Does ‘Fresh Act’ have a chance in the face of same ol’ rotten Farm Bill?

 Have you heard about the refreshing alternative to the same old tired, porky approach to farm legislation?

    Sens. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and Richard Lugar, R-Ind., proposed a rebel farm bill called the Fresh Act that would replace billions of dollars in payments to farmers of a handful of crops with an insurance program that would be available free to all farmers — including the 91 percent of California farmers who receive no federal crop subsidies….
    But it would come at the expense of the … cluster of seven states in the Midwest and South that get most of the $7.5 billion that will be spent this year on subsidies for corn, cotton, rice, wheat and soybeans.
The plan is expected to save so much money that it could finance a veritable liberal dream list.
    Billions of dollars would be diverted to food stamps and fruit and vegetable purchases in school food programs. Money would be freed for conservation easements to preserve farm land from suburban sprawl and a host of other environmental programs. Aid for organic farms and locally based food purchases, research for fruit, nut and vegetable crops, and rural development would rise.
    The changes would also bring farm programs into compliance with world trade treaties, and still trim $3 billion from the deficit.

Anybody think it’s got more than a snowball’s chance of overcoming the massive stone wall of interests stacked against it? It would be nice to think so.

Oh, and before you "conservatives" dismiss it on the basis of that "liberal" reference above, check out what The Washington Times said.

10 thoughts on “Does ‘Fresh Act’ have a chance in the face of same ol’ rotten Farm Bill?

  1. weldon VII

    I’m curious. Your Washington Times link doesn’t tell me in any detail what the old farm bill actually does, but it does gives me a general overview of the FRESH bill and this list of sponsors: Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-New Jersey; Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Indiana; Orrin Hatch, R-Utah; Susan Collins, R-Maine; Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey; and Ben Cardin, D-Maryland.
    That’s nobody from the Southeast, where we actually grow things.
    Pardon me, but when I think farm, I don’t think New Jersey, Indiana, Maryland, Maine and Utah.
    What’s so “refreshing” to you about a bill that takes money away from the South and sends it North and West?
    Furthermore, if our farmers don’t lose anything thanks to this FRESH approach, how could “the plan save so much money as to finance a veritable liberal dream list”?

  2. Mike Cakora

    Brad –
    Other conservatives, such as the National Review, have had good things to say about the Fresh Act.
    But I’m not too sanguine about its chances since it’s quite a departure from the status quo and upsets some powerful constituencies. Besides, this is the Senate version, we still need to see the House version, and who knows what the conference version will look like.
    I expect something like the water project Bush recently vetoed. The frugal Senate bill had a $14 billion price tag, the House version came in at $15 billion, and the joint conference split the difference with the $23 billion bill Bush vetoed.
    I fear the Fresh Bill will keep its name but lose its spirit.

  3. Mike Cakora

    Weldon VII –
    On that list Maryland and Indiana out-produce the Palmetto State, Maine does okay for its size (okay, I have a spud jones), and even New Jersey produces tons of non-listed produce such as tomatoes and green table veggies. Here’s my source.
    I disagree that we should be looking at this as “what’s in it for us?” I think we should look for something like “is this a wise way to spend taxpayers’ money” and on that count the Fresh Act is less bad than its predecessors.
    The problem with earmarks is that the benefits accrue in the following order:

    – the earmark recipient,
    – the politician who sponsored it (votes and campaign contributions at election time)
    – sometimes the folks in district where the earmark is spent.

    The actions of the grandmasters of pork Byrd (D-WV, Stevens (R-AK) , Murtha (D-PA), Young (R-AK), and their fellow-travelers borders on the criminal. However one seeks to describe their efforts, they work against the notion of small-government.
    Some Republicans in the Senate, our own Jim DeMint and Oklahoma’s Coburn are making a stand. The recent defeat of the $1M Woodstock earmark surprised me.

  4. Mike Cakora

    Here’s a great resource for farm subsidy facts: The Environmental Working Group Farm Subsidy Database. Who are the top 20 recipients 1995-2005? Here’s the answer. Er, none are or were poor…
    Here’s some of what the database let’s you find out:

    EWG finds that the top 1% of beneficiaries received 17% of the crop subsidy benefits between 2003 and 2005. Their average benefit was $377,484 per person for the 3 program years or over $125,000 apiece annually. As a point of reference, the average adjusted gross income within the ZIP codes of those same top recipients was $45,853 in 2004 (the latest year for with IRS provides data from tax returns by ZIP code).

    I can’t find it right now, but somewhere out in that mass of tubes called the internet is a list of the residents of Manhattan Island, NYC, who collect agricultural subsides.
    Wait, here it is! Note that four or five receive more than $250K per year. But there must be over 100, no?
    For earmarks in general, there’s a new, most excellent resource.

  5. Doug Ross

    How about asking Lindsey Graham what he thinks of the bill?
    A good conservative would be for it.
    A guy who needs campaign donations from South Carolina farmers might not.

  6. weldon VII

    Utah ain’t Kansas, and neither is South Carolina, but my little farm covers 240 acres. Yours?
    This year, we grew corn and soybeans. Last year, cotton and wheat. The year before that, all four.
    Cotton, corn, wheat, soybeans and rice account for 90 percent of the subsidies now. So saith your link.
    So stand corrected, if you wish, although I wasn’t trying to correct you to begin with. I just wanted to know why you would back a farm bill that couldn’t possibly help the state you live in.
    We grow the subsidy crops here. We may not rank with the big states in terms of total production and subsidies, but plenty of Pee Dee, Midlands and Lowcountry farmers grow the subsidy crops — pretty well, in fact — without producing a single peach.
    I mean, it is each individual farmer we care about, right? Or should we be concerned about which state has the most acres?
    I also asked you how the FRESH bill could save money to finance liberal projects, but you didn’t bother to address that.
    And Mike, I understand the problem with earmarks in general. But why a poor state like South Carolina should sacrifice any part of an earmark for the sake of 91 percent of the farmers in California, a wealthy state if ever there was one, I just don’t understand.
    Of course, if either one of you could find some farmers in South Carolina that think the FRESH bill is a better idea, I might change my mind, even if I don’t think it could possibly help me.

  7. Mike Cakora

    weldon VII –
    My relatives lost their farms in Streator, IL decades ago, we’ve friends and acquaintances engaged in farming here — in fact one, a peach farmer in Batesburg, is undergoing treatment for the big C and happened to benefit from crop insurance this year, the first year that he’s ever used that program — so I’m sympathetic to the plight of those who till the soil. No matter how hard you work, no matter how smartly you deploy labor and capital, you’re at the mercy of the elements and the markets.
    That said, we don’t have a reasonable policy if our goal is to prevent the little guy from wild swings, but a program that offers some help to those folks while allowing the savvy to reap significant gains. I don’t blame the savvy folks, but the policy makers who push and legislators who pass poorly thought-out bills.
    Are you surprised that farm payments benefited legislators?

    Congressional ethics rules allow members who get farm subsidies to vote on the bills that authorize them, on the grounds that the bills affect a general class of people. Some see a problem with that.

    So with a tip of a big hat to Archie Bell and the Drells, I’d just like to see us tighten up and suggest that FRESH is a start.
    As for earmarks in general, they are corrupting. I deal daily with the feds and some state governments where the principle is competition and either best value or lowest bid wins. That’s what every successful company does with suppliers, that’s what rational individuals do when buying groceries, getting a house painted, purchasing a new car, or whatever. If you’re getting a commodity, you want the best price. If you want value among competing services or products, you weigh the price against the features and intangibles. That’s smart and fair, and that’s how taxpayer money should be spent. .
    Earmarks bypass those procedures by directing funds to a “worthwhile” purpose or activity. John Murtha (D-PA) just happens to be the most prominent practitioner around today — who could possibly match what he’s done for companies headquartered in his district over the years? According to the article, he’s directed around $2B to his district since joining the appropriations committee. And as I noted above, Alaska’s Republicans Stevens and Young have done the same thing but are still pikers compared to West-by-God-Virginia’s Byrd.
    Cui bono? Obviously the first in line is the recipient of the earmark. Next comes the sponsor, who gets credit, votes, and campaign contributions, finally possibly the taxpayers in the district or state. I say “possibly” because there may be more beneficial uses wherever the money does go, and the money may not in fact be spent locally.
    Thus, in the case of Murtha’s largess with DoD funds, a lot of it ends up getting spent in the DC Metro area. For taxpayers generally there’s certainly a better way to spend the money; for the locals too there’s probably a better way, especially since they may see no benefit whatsoever. The bitter truth is that the earmark process allows members to exploit their positions of power. Here’s why.

    Earlier this year, Senators Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton earmarked $1 million for a museum in New York commemorating the Woodstock Festival. A few weeks later, the recipients of the earmark donated $29,000 to the senators’ campaigns. Was this a quid pro quo? Who knows? But because of the earmark process, this kind of “circular fundraising” happens all of the time.

    Would the museum have qualified for the $1M under any competitive process? No way. But if the notion of a happy hippie celebration did have merit, it could have competed for available funds and would have gotten something, no?
    The sad fact is that earmarks have little to do with merit or with the relative wealth — or lack thereof — of a particular state or locality, and more to do with the raw power wielded by their sponsors.

  8. weldon VII

    I live in one of the poorest counties in this relatively poor state of ours, so I understand how big counties and big states put themselves at the top of every legislative list.
    In fact, I hear our state rep talk about the 10 big counties that control everything in S.C. every time I ask him why he hasn’t done anything for us lately.
    He values his position in the legislature because he gets paid to travel back and forth to Columbia, where he procures the stuff his business sells every day.
    In more than 20 years in office, the only things he’s produced for our county are resolutions extolling citizens and teams that excelled at something.
    And yet we fear who might replace him.

  9. weldon VII

    Now that I’ve had enough time to do a little research, I think you and the state editorial board, which apparently approved Wednesday’s ill-informed editorial, owe all of us an apology.
    Above, you wrote “We do have millions of peaches, but I believe we lag behind others when it comes to the subsidy biggies.”
    Well, actually, though South Carolina ranks second among all states in peach production, we grow many more acres of the “subsidy biggies” than we do peaches.
    Specifically, though we grow only 14,000 acres of peaches principally in eight counties, we grow:
    * 300,000 acres of cotton in 33 counties
    * 310,000 acres of corn in 34 counties
    * 400,000 acres of soybeans in 33 counties
    * 130,000 acres of wheat in 28 counties
    Those are the figures for last year.
    And, in regard to the editorial’s ridiculous contention that subsidies should be aimed at apples rather than McDonald’s, only 600 acres of apples are grown in South Carolina.
    Here’s hoping you’ll be man enough to let everybody know your editorial board would cut hundreds of South Carolina farmers’ financial throats for the sake of the few growing apples and peaches and, of course, those poor farmers in California.
    The link is

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