The Kansas City (Mo.) Star on a new U.S. farm bill:
The U.S. Senate has begun debating a new farm bill that would set agricultural policy for the next five years. One early problem is a revolt by Southern senators backing rice and peanut farmers, who say the bill would reduce their piece of the pie.
Stepping back from the cocoon world of Washington, this sort of sectional squabble seems almost laughable. The federal government is running yet another trillion-dollar deficit, and the farm lobby is making a big deal out of a bill that would cut spending by - brace yourself - $2.3 billion a year.
But then, it may not result in lower spending at all. The measure would eliminate the direct-payments program begun in the 1990s and replace it with yet another insurance program for the big row crops - corn, wheat, soybeans, rice and cotton. But if prices fall and yields drop, the new program could mean Washington might end up paying even more.
Uncle Sam already pays about 60 percent of the premium costs for the existing crop-insurance program. Adding an additional layer of insurance would mean farmers' planting decisions would be close to risk-free. . . .
The ecological damage resulting from such a policy is likely to be considerable. Beefed up crop insurance will mean the loss of more grassland and native prairie to the plow - which might make sense if the point were to raise more food. But encouraging farmers to plant unproductive acreage merely to collect subsidies is inexcusable.
. . .
Given the nation's dire fiscal situation, a bill that would cut these programs by a mere $2.3 billion a year is an insult. Surely Congress can do better than this.
* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.