"The era of direct payments is over."
— U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee
Let's hope she's right.
Stabenow's committee last week approved a half-trillion dollar farm and food bill that seeks to end $5 billion in direct payments — those notorious government checks sent to landowners regardless of need, market conditions or whether the recipient is even a farmer.
It's about time, given that direct payments were never supposed to be permanent, and the farm economy has been strong.
But more scrutiny is needed of expanded insurance subsidies. Many growers already get heavily subsidized crop insurance. Now they could be protected against modest declines in yield or prices.
U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, warned Friday that big new subsidies to cotton producers, protecting them against shallow revenue losses, would cost $3.2 billion over 10 years.
Kind — along with Reps. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Earl Bulmenauer, D-Ore. — also introduced legislation to end a nearly $150 million annual subsidy to the Brazilian cotton industry. The payment to Brazil essentially pays off the South American nation so it doesn't object further to the World Trade Organization about heavy subsidies of cotton growers in the United States that violate trade agreements.
Kind suggested the payment to Brazil is emblematic of a Congress that still isn't serious about approving a fiscally-responsible farm bill.
Wisconsin doesn't have any members of its congressional delegation on the Senate Agriculture Committees. But U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Sherwood, sits on the House Agriculture Committee.
Unfortunately, he was the only Wisconsin member of the House last year to vote against Kind's smart push to block the Brazil payment.
Congress is getting closer to a farm bill that cuts waste while preserving a solid safety net for those hard workers who produce our food.
It's the right direction — but not far enough toward reform.