US farmers to get $20bn in extra support?

President George Bush is to veto a new US Farm Bill, agreed by the House of Representatives and the Senate in Washington this week, complaining that it will cost too much.

The two bodies, which make up the Congress, published their agreed Farm Bill on Thursday (8 May) after months of deliberation.

Key components include:

  • Increased support payments for farm commodities

  • $1.1bn new investment in renewable energies

  • $10.4bn extra spending on nutrition programmes for poor families

  • New permanent disaster programme for farmers hit by flood and drought

  • $6.6bn extra spending on conservation.

Controversially, Congress’s Farm Bill – called The Food, Conservation and Energy Act – also includes a cap on payments to the county’s wealthiest farmers.

But the legislation has been attacked by the Bush administration for failing to implement real reform and for increasing the budget by almost $20bn.

“At a time of record farm income, Congress decided to further increase farm subsidy rates and qualify more people for taxpayer support,” said agriculture secretary Ed Schafer.

“In addition, Congress decided to include a new permanent disaster program. This represents a return to outdated farm policy and questions the government’s investment in crop insurance which was designed to protect farmers against low commodity prices and crop failures.

“Americans do not understand why their taxes should be used to provide payments to individuals with adjusted gross incomes of $500,000 and higher, some of the wealthiest people in America.

“This legislation lacks meaningful farm program reform and expands the size and scope of government. I have visited face to face with our President and he was direct and plain. The President will veto this bill.”

These comments have angered the Congress and America’s farming interests alike.

Chairman of the Senate’s agriculture committee Tom Harkin said the new Farm Bill was good for all Americans. “Inexplicably, the White House seems intent on destroying the harvest just as the seeds are being planted.”

American Farm Bureau Federation president Bob Stallman said that the new Farm Bill was “fully paid for via offsets that everyone agrees are acceptable”

President Bush’s decision to veto it was “disappointing”.

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