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House Grapples With Subsidies for Millionaire Farmers

May 28, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The House Agriculture Committee is dealing with growing opposition in Congress to millionaire farmers who receive federal subsidies.

Reps. Timothy Penny, D-Minn., and Dan Glickman, D-Kan., proposed last week that the 1990 farm bill be amended in committee to cut off subsidies to farmers who gross more than $2 million a year.

The idea rankled members who view subsidies not as a welfare program for needy farmers but as the government’s way to ensure a steady supply of food in an industry that, by nature, is cyclical.

″Our intention is to hear what people think about the issue,″ said Glickman, chairman of the subcommittee on wheat, soybeans and feed grains, the mostly highly subsidized crops.

The size of government subsidies have been gradually falling since the all- time record of $26 billion in 1986, but efforts to cut the federal deficit have put a tighter squeeze on farm programs.

Rep. Jerry Huckaby, D-La., said the Glickman-Penny proposal would be ″the beginning of the end of the farm program.″

Rep. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., another critic of the plan, called Glickman ″a legislative activist who needs to find the woolly bears of the farm bill and expose them on a weekly basis.″

Rep. Glenn English, D-Okla., said the proposal challenged the philosophy of the farm program.

″This program is designed to help the family farmer balance supply and demand,″ he said, contending that the Glickman-Penny proposal would make it a welfare program.

Several members argued that gross revenues weren’t an indication of a farmer’s wealth, because production costs often absorb so much of a producer’s income.

″The livestock business, for example, is low profit,″ said Rep. Denny Smith, R-Ore. ″Returns are 2 to 4 percent. You have a huge investment for a small turnaround.″

John Campbell, deputy undersecretary of agriculture, said the Bush administration was responsible in part for starting the debate over the subsidies.

″Our preference would be to stay on course,″ he told the committee. But he said that if agriculture spending was not brought down, the administration may support a move such as that suggested by Glickman and Penny.

A coalition led by Reps. Richard Armey, R-Texas, and Charles Schumer, D- N.Y., has announced it will fight some subsidy programs when the bill gets to the floor.

Armey has said he’ll introduce an amendment to cut off payments to any farmer who has annual profits over $100,000.

Since the food shortages and farm failures of the Great Depression, the federal government and agriculture have been intertwined through a farm bill that is passed every five years.

Supporters of the programs say participation by wealthy farmers assures they will cooperate with the government in areas they may not otherwise be so inclined. For example, subsidy programs often include requirements that certain acreage be set aside for conservation or supply management.

Penny said the $2 million figure he and Glickman proposed as a cutoff for federal subsidies was based on limits allowed under the disaster payment legislation passed last year to aid drought victims.

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