Most public policy comes down to money - how much and for what - and the Farm Bill is no different. Editorial pages, with the Washington Post leading the charge, and broad range of organizations have focused narrowly on commodity subsidies and setting limits for how much individual farmers can receive.
But of course farm programs aren't only about farmers. A better way to look at farm programs is outlined in IATP's latest paper "A Fair Farm Bill for Taxpayers" by Heather Schoonover.
Schoonover writes, "Public money should provide public benefits, and public money for agriculture can benefit everyone. Far from being just about farmers, agriculture can provide us with healthy food, well-managed natural resources and resilient rural communities. Everyone has a stake in a well-functioning food and agriculture system. Achieving the agricultural system we want is not a question of investing more; it is a question of investing better and smarter."
The paper calls for fundamental, systemic change that focuses not strictly on reforming subsidies, but rather on ensuring price stability in the marketplace for farmers and consumers. As Schoonover points out, "Proposals to replace or augment subsidies with mechanisms such as farmer savings accounts or revenue-basd payments face the same deficiency as subsidies: they do nothing to address overproduction and low prices. . .in other words, they are more of the same."
At this point, it's unclear whether the Senate will vote on a new Farm Bill before the end of the year. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is trying to cut a deal to limit amendments. The uncertainty in the Senate makes it unclear when a new Farm Bill will be completed - or even if Congress will simply decide to extend the existing Farm Bill until 2009. Regardless, how taxpayer money is spent will ultimately be at the heart of the debate.
You can read all nine parts of IATP's "Fair Farm Bill" series and follow the latest Farm Bill developments at IATP's Farm Bill page.