Opponents of the farm bill are digging in for a fight. A coalition of nearly 30 taxpayer watchdog groups yesterday wrote lawmakers pleading to reopen debate on a section of the bill dealing with trade. And two Republican senators have vowed to prolong debate despite the long odds they face.
Because of a clerical error, House and Senate votes overriding President Bush’s veto didn’t include a 34-page section of the bill on trade. Farm bill supporters would like to move quickly and approve the measure, but Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) are opposed to a simple voice vote, according to CongressDaily ($).
With the backing of Coburn and DeMint, the National Taxpayers Union and Citizens Against Government Waste organized an open letter to lawmakers urging opposition to the trade section. The letter outlines some of the more egregious provisions included in Title III of the bill.
- Spends $200 million annually for the Market Access Program and extends the Foreign Market Development Program. These wasteful programs are a blatant source of corporate welfare. Taxpayers shouldn’t be footing the bill for crop manufacturers and food processors to market their goods abroad.
- Imposes a “U.S. Importer Declaration Program” on the timber trade that is little more than a sop to domestic logging interests who want to keep out low-cost products from international competitors. The practical outcomes of this misguided policy could include increased housing costs.
- Requires USAID to make a contribution of up to $60 million over the next five years to a doomsday “seed bank” in Norway. The federal government’s massive overspending problem is a much more immediate threat to the United States’ well-being.
- Provides $84 million in mandatory funding for the McGovern-Dole food program in 2009. Many taxpayers object to sending their hard-earned dollars abroad when recipient countries could be doing much more to promote domestic economic reforms that would lessen the demand for aid.
- Includes a $60 million pilot program to evaluate local procurement of international food aid while at the same time loosening the cap on funds used to transport U.S. food aid for storage overseas.
- Mandates a “safe box” that directs money (beginning at $375 million in 2009 and reaching $450 million in 2012) meant for food aid to more general development purposes.
It remains unclear what will happen next in Congress. Coburn and DeMint are facing pressure from Republicans. In the House, Minority Leader John Boehner, who hails from the most agricultural district among GOP leadership, strongly opposed the bill. Boehner, who helped write Freedom to Farm more than a decade ago, repudiated the pork-laden farm bill. However, 100 Republicans still voted to override Bush’s veto.