WHO SAYS that the Senate can’t get anything done? On Thursday, it voted 90-8 to open debate on a bill that could actually cut projected spending on Agriculture Department programs — the vast majority of which goes for food stamps — from $992.6 billion to $969 billion over the next decade.
Most of the $23.6 billion in savings come from eliminating such notorious subsidies as the “direct payment” program, which awarded commodity farmers $5 billion a year regardless of need. Meanwhile, food stamps would be spared all but a $450 million-per-year trim. The cuts represent not only systemic reform but also more than twice the agriculture savings that the Simpson-Bowles commission proposed. And the Agriculture Committee approved the bill on a bipartisan basis.
So what’s not to like? Alas, what the bill takes from farmers with one hand, it partially gives back with the other. The bill’s savings would have been almost twice as great if it did not offset the elimination of direct payments with a new, subsidized crop insurance program on top of the generous one from which farmers already benefit.