Opinion Editorial: Farm Bill Reformers Fair Weather Friend

Nov 9, 2007

As the Farm Bill debate began this year, reformers thought they found an unlikely ally in the Bush Administration, which has argued forcefully against the farm safety net because it allowed big city millionaires to collect farm payments.

What reformers don’t know or have conveniently forgotten is that the Bush Administration has failed to use the authority it already has to end those payments and has ignored recommendations to change weak regulations that allow this to continue.

In 1987, Congress passed the Farm Program Payments Integrity Act, specifically to prohibit farm program payments to individuals and entities that are not “actively engaged in farming.”

Since that law passed, USDA has written and defended weak standards that are used to determine if someone is really actively engaged in farming. Just one look at the map that former Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns used to show farm program payment recipients in New York and other big cities shows you that USDA has done a terrible job enforcing the law.

The 2002 Farm Bill established a Commission on the Application of Payment Limitations for Agriculture. The Commission found that USDA failed to devote sufficient resources to the administration of payment limits and did a poor job of policing related fraud and abuse.

In 2004, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report confirmed the Commission’s finding and concluded that USDA failed to write regulations strict enough to prevent non-farmers from receiving payments. USDA responded to that report by arguing that the rules were sufficient. Now the Administration is blaming Congress for the loose regulations it created and defended.  

Yet again, the Bush Administration has failed to lead on important issues, then tried to place the responsibility and blame at Congress’ feet.

Not so fast, Mr. President. If you want to wear the banner of reform, you should lead the way instead of pointing fingers and playing politics with the Farm Bill.

Congressman Collin C. Peterson serves as Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture and represents the Seventh District of Minnesota.