Thursday, February 28, 2002

The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, #S.1731,

The FARM BILL of 2002 .
~~ by technopolitical ~~ ` `

The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, #S.1731, passed by the Senate on February 13, 2002, ( and vernacularly known as the “2002 Farm Bill”), is far-reaching and elaborate legislation touching on most every facet of the American agriculture industry. The Farm Bill regulates the prices of America’s staple crops, livestock, and dairy products. Payments of subsidies to farmers of corn, wheat, and cotton, comprise the bulk of the bill’s total expenditures, estimated at $171 billion over the next 5 years. [Miller]. The bill also includes issues of conservation, land / water rights and usage, and allots $800 million more per year for food-stamp payments and nutrition programs than current levels. [AP]

It is important to note that there are not fixed amounts of money distributed by the Farm Bill, only the “mechanisms” of how the money is paid out is fixed. Many factors that affect crop prices are beyond human control. So specific payments can vary according to volatile economy of the agriculture industry. Weather factors, like drought, flood, and early frosts can reduce crop productions, while good weather conditions can cause bumper crops. A main function of the farm bill is to insulate farmers from major price fluctuations by stabilizing their earnings with subsidies.

The passage of a Farm Bill is a forgone conclusion, as the legislation is the centerpiece of domestic agricultural policy. The battle becomes what will be in the Farm Bill. As we will see a Senator’s foremost concern is what they can get included into the bill for their home state.

While the final vote on the bill broke mostly on partisan lines --with 48 Democrats voting for and 38 Republicans voting no--- the bills sponsor and prime architect Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) hailed the outcome as a “bipartisan” victory. (The word bipartisan appears no less than 5 times in the bill’s brief press release on Harkin’s official website.)

In reality, the Farm Bill is a parochial piece of legislation. Senators and their home state farm interests tended not look into the big picture of the national bill, but more just how much money came to their state. Nine Republicans voted for the bill, and two Democrats voted against it. Here we will highlight a few of these swing Senators, who split from their party leaders, as they give an excellent overview of the issues involved in the Farm Bill’s particulars.

Six of the nine Republican yes votes came from just three states-- Alabama, Maine, and Virginia— where both senators are Republican and both voted for the bill.

Of the three other Republicans who voted yes, two--- Chuck Grassly of Iowa and Peter Fitzgerald of Illinois--- come from states that fair well with the Farm Bill. The votes of Grassly, whose co-senator Democrat Tom Harkin was the bills Prime Sponsor, and Fitzgerald, whose co-senator is Democrat Dick Durban, were never really in doubt.

(Senator Arlen Spector of Pennsylvania, was the only Republican ‘yes’ vote whose co-senator did not also vote yes, as fellow Pennsylvania Republican Rick Santorum voted against the bill.)


The technology of the Internet greatly affected the shaping of the debate of this year’s Farm Bill, by way of a single group called the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Using the freedom of information act, the EWG compiled comprehensive statistics on exactly to whom and to where subsidies from the previous Farm Bill went from 1996-2001 and posted them on their website for all to see. [] The data posted on the EWG site became embedded into the debate on the bills formation, and provided Senators, interest groups, and reporters covering the bill, with volumes of statistical information. (Most every article used to research this paper mentioned the role and/or contained statistics from EWG.) A New York Times article published a week after the Senate’s vote summed up the impact of the EWG website:

“Throughout the angry Senate debate about whether to limit subsidies to wealthy farmers, lawmakers kept referring to ‘the Web site’ to make their points. ‘You can see on the Web site — 10 percent of the farmers get most of the money,’ said Senator Don Nickles, Republican of Oklahoma. ‘I looked up Indiana on the Web site,’ said Senator Richard G. Lugar, Republican of Indiana, ‘and very few Indiana farmers would be affected by a modest limit.’ [Becker]

EWG revealed that 75 percent of farm subsidies from 1996-2001 went to only 15 states. As well, EWG showed that many of the largest recipients of payments via the 1996 Farm Bill were to Fortune 500 Corporations who own major farming concerns.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) put together what was dubbed the “Eggplant Caucus”, a bi-partisan coalition of mostly northeastern senators whose goal was to bring regional equity to federal farm subsidies. (This caucus included Maine’s two Republican senators whose votes in favor of the final bill were crucial to its passage and will be highlighted below.)

The Eggplant Caucus secured the major provision of the Senate 2002 Farm Bill that greatly lowered the cap on subsidy payments. The 1996 Farm Bill contained a cap of $460,000 per farm, while the 2002 Senate bill places the cap at $275,000 per farm. [Zremski] This cap reduction is designed to make more money available to be distributed to states --outside the Midwest---- that in the past have received fewer moneys.

Maine’s republican senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins joined Northeast Democrats in voting yes and were important swing votes, with Collins in the undecided camp until just a few days before the Senate’s final vote. The prime motivating factors for the Snowe and Collins vote, was how it would affect the dairy industry in Maine, which has lost one-fifth of it dairy farms in the past decade. [Jensen]

The Farm Bill of 1996 included price supports for milk, but the program expired last September 30, and Maine’s senators battled vigorously to reacquire those moneys plus some. Senator Snowe was instrumental to the addition of $2 billion a year for payments to dairy farmers within the bill. $500 million of which would be divided among the Northeast states. [ibid]

It is important to note that subsidy payments for a particular product—in this case milk—are not uniform and varies from state to state. Republican Pete Domenci of New Mexico, claimed that in final Senate bill New Mexico farmers would get only 6 cents per 100 pounds for milk, while Maine farmers would average 90 cents per 100 pounds. [ibid]

Senator Snowe’s fight for this milk money also put her at loggerheads with Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana whom as the ranking Republican on the Agriculture committee was a prime opponent of the final bill. Lugar singled out the milk issue for criticism saying, “there is no sound policy reason for this disparity.” [ibid]

Whether or not the milk price support system is sound fiscal policy, it was part of the “pork” that Maine’s Republican senators demanded in return for their support of the Senate Farm Bill.

Senator Collins held out her support of the bill until Sponsor Tom Harkin agreed to include an experimental savings program intended to help insulate farmers from price drops. Under this program the government would match the first $5,000 that farmers put aside into their savings accounts.

As well, Maine’s senators won major increases in money available for conservation. The 1996 Bill gave Maine $4.6 million a year for conservation, while the 2002 bill will give the state least $12 million per year and maybe as much as $29 million per year [ibid].

Alabama’s two Republican Senators Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby also voted for the bill because of what they got for their homestate. Sessions was able to get four additional Alabama counties added to Delta Regional Authority, which provides grants to farmers in eligible counties.

"I am pleased the Senate voted to add these four counties to the 16 Alabama counties already included in the Delta Regional Authority," Sessions said. "These counties will benefit from DRA grants to improve their infrastructure and draw jobs to those areas. I am hopeful that conferees will work expeditiously, so President Bush can sign this bill as soon as possible. Planting season is quickly approaching and our farmers need the certainty that a new five-year farm bill provides. [Sessions]

The only two Democrats who voted against the bill; Sen.Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, and Sen. Jon Cozine of New Jersey, each had different specifics of why they opposed the legislation, but the common factor was that that saw the bill as bad for the folks back home. After her no vote Lincoln stated: “My support for the Senate farm bill was dependent upon what it did for my state, and I voted against this bill because it unfairly inhibits Arkansas farmers and ranchers.” (AP-1)

Sen. Lincoln opposed the final bill because it contained a provision that prohibited meat-packers from also owning the cattle within 14 days of slaughter. Lincoln argued that this provision would prevent the Arkansas meat-packers from running at full capacity at all times. [ibid]

Meanwhile, New Jersey Democrat Sen. Jon Carzine saw the Farm Bill as unfair to Jersey farms as “the overwhelming bulk of subsidies in this bill will go for commodities that, by and large are not produced in the Garden State” [Miller].

The Farm Bill clearly demonstrates the axiom that “all politics are local.” Despite its massive size and scope, in the end legislation got an individual up or down vote from our swing senators solely on what the bill did for that Senator’s home state. Loyalty to homestate interests outweighed all other factors in the formation and passage of the legislation.

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“Senate Passes Farm Subsidies Bill” by The Associated Press

Obtained via the New York Times on the Internet; . 13 February 2002.



“Arkansas Senators vote no on bill.” The Associated Press State & Local Wire. 13 February 2002

(Available via Lexis-Nexis and was accessed on 21 March 2002)


Becker, Elizabeth

“Web Site Helped Change Farm Policy” The New York Times 24 February 2002

Obtained via the New York Times on the Internet; , accessed 24 February 2002

(Available via Lexis-Nexis)



Environmental Working Group website


Jansen, Bart

“Farm Bill Supports Dairy Farmers, Conservation” Maine Sunday Telegram. 17 February 2002

Sec: Insight; Washington Politics: page 2C.

(Available via Lexis-Nexis and was accessed on 21 March 2002)


Sessions, Jeff. United States Senator. “Senate Farm Bill Would Add Four Alabama Counties To Delta

Regional Authority” Posted at : and last accessed

5 May 2002


Miller, Micheal.

“More Aid Unlikely For NJ Farmers.” The Press of Atlantic City. 25 February 2002

(This article was obtained through it’s posting at: )


Zremski, Jerry

“Farm Bill Aims for Level Playing Field; Congress is Poised to Correct A Disparity in Federal

Aid That Has Overwhelmingly Favored the South and Midwest.” The Buffalo News.

19 February 2002. Sec: Local, p. B1 (Available via Lexis-Nexis and was accessed on 21 March



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