News / USA

Republican Congress Could Scrutinize Farm Subsidies

Billions spent supporting American farmers present a ripe target for some lawmakers

US farmers receive $5 billion a year in direct payments from the US government, whether the farms are hurting or prospering.
US farmers receive $5 billion a year in direct payments from the US government, whether the farms are hurting or prospering.

Multimedia

Audio

After this month's U.S. elections, Republicans are poised to take control of the House of Representatives with the promise to cut federal spending. The billions spent supporting American farmers are a ripe target for some.

Critics say the subsidies not only cost taxpayers money, they also hurt farmers in other countries by pushing down commodity prices.

But how or whether Congress will cut farm subsidies is very much in question.

Developing-world farmers have long complained that American farmers have an unfair advantage in world trade because of generous subsidies from the U.S. government.

So they may have welcomed the election-night victory speech from John Boehner, the presumed Speaker of the House in the incoming Congress. He said that Republicans would "...take a new approach that hasn't been tried in Washington before by either party. It starts with cutting spending rather than increasing it."

Policy analyst David de Gennaro with the Environmental Working Group says, "The easiest place for them to start looking is farm subsides."

The most objectionable of the farm subsidies, he says, is the roughly $5 billion a year that U.S. farmers receive in so-called direct payments. They get that money whether they are hurting or prospering.

Although he agrees farmers need a safety net, "what we have now looks nothing like a safety net," he says. "It's pretty much a guaranteed income."

And with crop prices running high this year, many would argue that farmers don't really need the guaranteed income.

Meanwhile, the United States is $13 trillion in debt. That's why even the nation's largest farm groups expect those direct payments to come under greater scrutiny.

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson says, "It is very hard to justify making these payments during good years. That's why we would argue that you should have programs to help when times are tough for those farmers and spend these scarce resources just where they are really needed."

Johnson says it makes more sense to help farmers in bad years -- for example, when prices are low.

But depending on what form that help takes, the World Trade Organization may disagree.

"Reducing the direct payments and redirecting the money to other kinds of farm support could actually be detrimental to the world trading system and detrimental to the interests of farmers in other countries," says David Orden with the International Food Policy Research Institute, "because they are more trade-distorting."

Orden says the WTO doesn't object to direct payments as much because that program doesn't single out any particular crop.

By contrast, the U.S. government pays cotton farmers, for example, when world cotton prices drop below a certain level. That means American farmers are more likely to keep growing cotton - keeping supplies high and world prices low. That's not fair to farmers in other countries, says the WTO. The U.S. recently lost a trade dispute on this matter, and is paying damages to Brazil.

So, by that measure, Orden says, paying farmers all the time isn't as bad for world trade.

He admits it doesn't look good politically to be paying farmers when prices are high. But he is skeptical that the policy will change.

"The history of us cutting support for farmers in the U.S. under Democratic or Republican Congresses is not very strong," he says. "And so I don't think we can take the new Congress as an indication that there will clearly be cuts in farm spending."

He notes that in 1994, the last time Republicans swept into Congress on a platform of cutting spending, farm subsidies actually went up.

You May Like

UN: 1 Million Somalis at Risk of Hunger

Group warns region is in dire need of humanitarian aid, with at least 200,000 children under age of five acutely malnourished as drought hits southern, central part of nation More

Human Rights Groups Allege Supression of Freedoms in Thailand

Thailand’s military, police have suppressed release of independent report assessing human rights in kingdom during first 100 days of latest coup More

Jennifer Lawrence Contacts FBI After Nude Photos Hacked

'Silver Linings Playbook' actress' photos were posted on image-sharing forum 4chan; Federal Bureau of Investigations is looking into matter More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forcesi
X
September 02, 2014 12:58 PM
A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Internet, Technology Offer New Tools for Journalists

The Internet and rapidly evolving technology is quickly changing how people receive news and how journalists deliver it. There are now more ways to tell a story than ever before. One school in Los Angeles is teaching the next generation of journalists with the help of a state-of-the-art newsroom. Elizabeth Lee has this report.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.

AppleAndroid