Panel: Trump victory may make farm bill ‘reform’ hard
A representative of the conservative Charles Koch Institute sponsoring a Politico conference on the farm bill Monday called for a complete rewrite of the U.S. farm program, but a panel of farm bill experts said Donald Trump’s winning two-thirds or more of the vote in rural America means that’s unlikely to happen.
“Rather than open the conversation with how to tweak or adjust the program, the conversation should start with asking what the role of government should be,” Alison Acosta Fraser, a senior fellow at the Koch Institute, said in a 10-minute opening speech at Politico’s “Agriculture and the Next Administration” conference at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington.
Alison Acosta Fraser, managing director of research and policy at the Charles Koch Institute
“Agriculture policy is filled with costly government subsidies and controls,” Fraser said. “The winners are the connected and the well-off.”
“We are concerned that corporate welfare is turning America into a two-tiered society,” she said.
“Is agriculture really so different from other industries?” Fraser added.
But when a panel with farm bill experience began discussing the expected debate on the bill, no one predicted a large-scale rewrite.
Dale Moore, executive director for policy at the American Farm Bureau Federation, said that farmers would like a free market system if the government would really get out of their business, but that hasn’t happened.
The 2014 farm bill “needs some tweaking,” Moore said. When Jenny Hopkinson, the Politico reporter who moderated the session, asked whether there would be a checkoff or sugar reform, Moore said jokingly that she was “getting blasphemous.”
Asked if cotton and dairy producers are in so much trouble that the Farm Bureau would favor opening the current farm bill to make changes if the new bill is not written quickly, Moore said that he has “policy from my grass-roots members that say ‘no’ on opening up now. If there is something that changes, I reserve the right to revise and exchange my remarks.”
Moore said he expects the farm bill debate to begin by April. He also noted that when he was chief of staff to Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and the Bush administration attempted to write a farm bill, Congress said it was their job.
Joshua Sewell, a senior policy analyst at Taxpayers for Common Sense, said that his group would like separate discussions of the farm program and nutrition in separate bills, but the group is willing to engage in discussion in other ways.
Sewell said he wants to be sure the debate doesn’t “exclude the consumer and taxpayer interest,” but Moore said: “Sometimes we feel that there are folks that want to come to the party who don’t care about farmers and ranchers” or “understand the work that farmers and ranchers do every day to feed us.”
Sewell said that regulatory reform should be the beginning of the farm bill debate.
Anne MacMillan, a former deputy chief of staff to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and now a partner at Heather Podesta + Partners, said, “You are going to see a very similar farm bill in 2018.”
Asked by Lorette Picciano of the Rural Coalition about rural development, MacMillan said that smaller USDA programs matter, “but it takes creativity on the part of the leadership at USDA to make them important.”
–The Hagstrom Report