Senate’s current farm bill a cornucopia of bad ideas

The Hill’s “Player of the Week: Sen. Debbie Stabenow” June 4 editorial lauded Sen. Stabenow’s (D-Mich.) skillful handling of the farm bill so far. While I don’t question the chairwoman’s ability, the editorial glosses over several other important bill details that deserve the light of day. 

First, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that after nearly two weeks of floor consideration, only 14 out of 244 farm bill amendments (just 6 percent) have received a vote. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has filed for cloture to limit debate, making it less likely that other worthy amendments will be brought up before a final up-or-down vote. Examples of other common-sense amendments include Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Jeanne Shaheen’s (D-N.H.) amendment to place a reasonable limit on currently unlimited crop insurance premium subsidies, and Sen. Jeff Flake’s (R-Ariz.) amendments to eliminate new shallow loss entitlement programs that will lock in record income for a sector expected to realize its best year of farm profits in history.

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Second, despite Stabenow’s statement to the contrary, this is not a reform bill. While the outdated direct payment program was finally eliminated, tens of billions of dollars in savings were squandered on retrograde government-set target prices, new income guarantee entitlements and special-interest carve-outs for everything from cotton to catfish. And instead of reining in the highly subsidized crop insurance program, the bill actually expands subsidies by $5 billion. Taxpayers currently cover an average 62 cents out of each dollar of agribusinesses’ insurance premium costs. However, according to Stabenow, farmers “receive a bill, not a check” and “there is no subsidy given.” A subsidy is a subsidy, whether it comes in a check, direct deposit, or is masked so you never see the true cost of the subsidized program. When taxpayer dollars reduce your costs, you get a subsidy.

Finally, the farm bill is not a deficit-reduction bill. It ignores economic reality and our $16.8 trillion national debt. The bill kicks a bigger can down the road by spending nearly 60 percent more than the 2008 farm bill. While the editorial cites Stabenow’s claim that the bill saves $24 billion, in reality at least half of the savings are fake: $6 billion in sequestration cuts already baked into law and another $6 billion of commodity subsidy payments that were sneakily shifted outside of the 10-year budget window. 

Skillful leadership isn’t all that helpful when you’re leading the country in the wrong direction. 

Washington, D.C.


Setting the record straight on Iranian opposition
From Soona Samsami, representative in the United States, the National Council of Resistance of Iran

“Delisted Iranian terror group MEK registers to lobby” (May 24) is replete with contradictions. Even the title is a contradiction in terms. When in September 2012, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton revoked the long-overdue and politically motivated designation of the main Iranian opposition movement, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) and the broader coalition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, her lieutenants told journalists, and presumably the author, that the decision to delist was based on “the absence of confirmed acts of terrorism by the MEK for more than a decade.”

The undeniable fact, of course, is that the MEK never engaged in terrorism to begin with. Its classification in 1997, according to senior State Department officials at the time and in the ensuring years, “was a goodwill gesture to the newly-elected moderate [Iranian] president Mohammed Khatami.” Indeed, after a 10-year investigation into the conduct of the MEK, a French anti-terrorism investigative magistrate ruled in 2011 that the MEK’s actions even in the 1970s and ’80s did not target civilians and amounted to resistance against tyranny. 

Contrary to the author’s assertion, support for the MEK did not come about after its nuclear revelations in 2002, nor has it been limited to “U.S. conservatives.” A bipartisan majority in the House recognized the group as a legitimate resistance movement as far back as 1992 and some 32 senators from both sides of the aisle reiterated this in 2001. A stellar group of the most senior former U.S. foreign policy, national security and military officials endorsing the MEK delisting in the past three years includes not only Republicans, but prominent Democrats such as President Obama’s first national security adviser, Gen. James Jones, former House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.), former Govs. Bill Richardson, Ed Rendell and Howard Dean, and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Hugh Shelton.

The MEK was delisted not because of “an intense lobbying campaign” as the article contends, but after America’s second highest court, the U.S. Federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, granted a Writ of Mandamus and issued a unanimous and scathing rebuke in June 2012, lambasting the secretary’s “egregious” delay in reaching a decision. The three-judge panel warned her that if she delayed beyond October, it would delist the MEK itself, a ruling unprecedented in the 230-year plus judicial history of the United States.