The merits of our democratic process are many; however, every so often we look back at events that have transpired and see missed opportunities. Unfortunately, there exists a strong possibility that such will be the case with the 2007 Farm Bill, legislation that is so important, so vast and so complex that it is renewed not on an annual basis, but every five years.
Despite the rhetoric surrounding H.R. 2419, the bill cannot be considered true reform. Rather than take this opportunity to pass a truly reform-minded piece of legislation, the bill approved by the House Agriculture Committee would actually increase food and commodity price distortions, does nothing to reduce farm subsidies and has the potential to actually increase government payments to wealthy farmers.
In addition, it is a complete failure on the part of the House NOT to reform our nation's sugar policy. Not only does the House farm bill fail to include much-needed reforms that would restore fairness and balance to a protectionist-minded program, it would actually make the program even more irrational with greater government sponsorship that results in a cost for domestic sugar that is more than double the international price. Inevitably, it is American consumers who pay the price in the form of higher food costs.
This country needs a farm bill that reduces excessive taxpayer-funded subsidies to wealthy farmers and eliminates substantial domestic and international agricultural market distortions. However, H.R. 2419 extends programs that provide as much as a third of all subsidies to farmers who make in excess of $250,000 in annual income.
The politics of farm reform in this country are complex, but it is quite ironic that the Democratic leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives often calls for tax increases on "rich" individuals and families that earn over $250,000 a year, but cannot find the political courage to reduce or eliminate taxpayer-funded subsidies to farmers that make as much or more profit on an annual basis.
A reduction in farm subsidies -- especially to the most wealthy -- will also increase the flow of U.S. goods to overseas markets by reducing unnecessary WTO attacks on basic U.S. farm policies and breaking down barriers to free trade.
A truly reform-minded farm bill makes sense for the U.S., makes sense for consumers at home and abroad and makes sense for our economy. That is why it is vitally important that Congress and the Bush Administration support real reform of our nation's farm policies.
Cal Dooley is president/CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Assn., which merged last year with the Food Products Assn. GMA represents the world's leading food, beverage and consumer products companies. Contact GMA at 202-639-5900 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.