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

Video Westgate Mall Attack Survivors Confront Painful Memories

On anniversary of terror attack, survivors discuss how they have coped with trauma they experienced that day More

Iraqi Kurdish Leader: Protect Syrian City

Islamic State fighters are besieging Kobani, also known as Ayn al-Arab, after seizing at least 21 surrounding villages in a major assault against city on Syria's northern border with Turkey More

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 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.
Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calaisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 19, 2014 5:04 PM
The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video CERN Accelerator Back in Business

The long upgrade of the Large Hadron Collider is over. The scientific instrument responsible for the discovery of the Higgs boson -- the so-called "God particle" -- is being brought up to speed in time for this month's 60th anniversary of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known by its French acronym CERN. Physicists hope the accelerator will help them uncover more secrets about the origins of the universe. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid