In 1995/1996, the new Republican Congress passed a sweeping farm bill known as "Freedom to Farm," which dramatically reformed the nation’s outdated and heavy-handed agricultural subsidy programs. The main concept behind Freedom to Farm was to get the federal government out of the business of setting prices and mandating production. Instead, U.S. taxpayers would provide some income support for farmers in bad years. Regrettably, these historic reforms were mostly gutted in 2002, and Uncle Sam has returned to Soviet-style management of many commodity markets. That 2002 Five Year Plan is expiring, and this week, the Bush Administration will propose a new farm bill. Will it push reform or continue New Deal-style intervention? The key measuring sticks for the next farm bill:
- how much is the government involved in fixing prices and supplies?
- how much will the total cost be to taxpayers?
- how much will the farm bill raise the price of food for consumers?
- how much of the benefits go to massive agribusinesses, and how much to family farmers (currently. the big guys take most of the benefits)?
- does the farm bill expand government intervention into new commodity areas like apples?
- is the farm bill pro-trade?