WASHINGTON Oct 14 Farm subsidy reformers
praised a vote by the U.S. House of Representatives to make the
wealthiest growers pay more for federally subsidized crop
insurance, the first eligibility limit on a program that costs
$9 billion a year.
The non binding House vote late on Friday will be a factor
in upcoming negotiations with the Senate on a final version of
the new farm bill, which is a year overdue. Senators put a
similar restriction on farmers with more than $750,000 adjusted
gross income (AGI) a year in their bill.
One percent of farmers, or about 20,000 people, would be
affected by the provision, estimated to save $1.3 billion over
10 years. Crop insurance is the costliest part of the farm
safety net. The farm bill would expand the program by up to 10
percent while cutting conservation and food stamps for the poor.
Farm bill negotiations were expected to begin soon, although
no date was set. The House named 29 of its members as its
conferees on the $500 billion, five-year farm bill on Saturday.
The Senate appointed its conferees weeks ago.
Farm bills, written every few years, fund crop subsidies,
conservation, public nutrition, food aid, research, agricultural
exports and rural economic development programs.
Crop insurance reform was the only farm bill "instruction"
approved by the House during a series of votes that cleared the
way to negotiations with the Senate. The "sense of the House"
resolution, approved on a voice vote, is an indication of
lawmaker sentiment but conferees are not bound by it.
To reform-minded groups, the House vote was a step to rein
in subsidy spending and give a hand to family farmers. The
Environmental Working Group (EWG), which wants more money for
conservation, said the $750,000 AGI limit was a "modest" reform
"to bring a measure of fairness to crop insurance subsidies."
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, a small-farm
advocate, and EWG said growers also should be required to
practice conservation to qualify for subsidized insurance. The
small-farm group called for a cap on insurance payments to
farmers and restricting the program to active farmers.
Crop insurance is the only farm program without payment or
eligibility limits, said sponsors of the plan to reduce the
premium subsidy by 15 percentage points for farmers with more
than $750,000 AGI. At present, the government pays an average 62
cents of each $1 of the premium.
"Let's not subsidize folks at the high end as much and let's
protect the family farmer," Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan,
Wisconsin Republican said on Friday.
Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, an Oklahoma
Republican, said higher premiums could drive away large
operators and, with a smaller pool of participants, drive up
costs for smaller operators.
Texas Republican Mike Conaway said the proposal "will punish
success, will punish efficiency."
Georgia Republican Tom Price, a Ryan ally, said 4 percent of
farmers get one-third of crop insurance benefits. "It just
doesn't make sense," he said.
"In fact, it is ironic that there has been this attack on
food stamps," said Oregon Democrat Earl Blumenauer, "which has a
lower percentage of abuse than the crop insurance program."