Polis rails against wasteful ‘soviet-style’ farm-bill policy

DENVER — President Obama signed the nation’s long-overdue farm bill on Friday, leading many victims of stalled agricultural programs to sigh with relief while others groaned with disappointment that Washington predictably spared handouts to special interests and slashed support for the poor.

Colorado Congressman Jared Polis, a Democrat from Boulder, was deeply disappointed with the shape of the bill that ultimately landed on the president’s desk. He voted against it because it “failed to cut wasteful spending, like $30,000,000 for a USDA Catfish Inspection program that has never inspected a single catfish,” he wrote in a release.

Polis made a fortune as an internet entrepreneur and he decried the farm bill partly in the kind of market terms libertarian Republicans routinely use to bash Washington.

“In addition, the bill extends costly subsidies to agri-business that distort the market and force consumers to pay more for food,” he added. “It’s time to end our byzantine soviet-style agriculture policy.”

Danny Katz of the Colorado Public Interest Research Group (CoPIRG) agreed. He said that after watching one amendment to reduce big-ag subsidies after another be cut from the bill, his organization recommended a no-vote.

“Even the most modest reform… was removed at the last minute. Then bam: the FARM bill was voted on,” said Katz. “It was incredibly frustrating.”

That modest reform was an amendment put forward by Senators Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, and Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma. The Durbin-Coburn amendment would have cut federal subsidies to wealthy farms — those that gross more than $750,000 a year. As Katz pointed out, The amendment did not propose cut to subsidies for those farms entirely. It proposed a mere 15 percent cut.

Katz said the amendment was pulled from the bill as a result of a closed-door discussion and done so just minutes before the bill went to the floor for a vote.

Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, a member of the conference committee that developed the final bill and who supported the Durbin-Coburn amendment, wasn’t clear on how the amendment came to be struck from the final bill.

“Senator Bennet voted for the amendment on the floor,” his office told the Independent, “and he’s disappointed it wasn’t included in the final conference report.”

The farm bill is scheduled to be renewed every five years. The last version expired in 2012. The bill doles out roughly $100 billion a year in agricultural loans and farm subsidies. It supports an enormously wide-range of programs, including fire-prevention forest health work. The bill was tangled up for years in an ideological battle over the food stamps or SNAP program. Republicans sought to slash $40 billion from the program. Democrats proposed a $4 billion cut. In the end, lawmakers agreed to cut $8 billion from food stamps over the next decade.

[ Image of Grover, Colorado, by Pam Morris. ]