Farm Bill: Beauty for Biz, Beast for Environment?
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
NPR's Adam Davidson reports.
ADAM DAVIDSON: Scott Faber, a lobbyist for Environmental Defense, has been working fulltime every day on nothing but defeating the farm bill for a long time.
MONTAGNE: Probably about five years.
DAVIDSON: Farm bill reform has been your primary activity.
MONTAGNE: Yeah. Yeah, it has.
DAVIDSON: And not just him, Faber has 35 staffers working behind the scenes. He's the public face.
MONTAGNE: Hey, how are you doing?
DAVIDSON: He is spending these days lobbying members of the House, or, more often, their staff. Right now he's talking to Rachel Kondor and Chris Kaumo from Arizona Democrat Raul Grijalva's office.
MONTAGNE: Progressives are angry that there is not enough funding for nutrition and conservation. Fiscal conservatives are angry that we're continuing to provide unlimited subsidies to the wealthiest farmers in America.
MONTAGNE: So tell us a little bit about what you anticipate on the floor.
MONTAGNE: You know, I mean, it will come down to members like your boss. And so you're leaning yes? Undecided?
MONTAGNE: Still analyzing the position.
DAVIDSON: So it's always been clear who supports the bill. Farmers do, especially those farmers who get subsidies. But who's against it? Well, environmentalists say it promotes overproduction, which means too much fertilizer and pesticides.
MONTAGNE: Reverend David Beckmann, a Lutheran minister who runs Bread for the World, an anti-hunger religious activist group.
MONTAGNE: Reforming the farm bill is Bread for the World's highest priority this year. We think it's the piece of legislation that will do more good for hungry people than anything else Congress is doing this year.
DAVIDSON: Beckmann says U.S. overproduction drives down crop prices, which hurts poor farmers in Africa and Latin America. And by giving money to rich American farmers, the farm bill does little for the poor here.
MONTAGNE: It's completely antithetical to anybody with a free trade or free market philosophy.
DAVIDSON: That's Demian Moore standing in a Capitol Hill hallway with Beckman. Moore is a lobbyist for Taxpayers for Common Sense. He's a fiscal conservative. Reverend Beckmann usually rejects Moore's pro-market views, except with the farm bill.
MONTAGNE: That's a case in which the market is a lot kinder to poor people than badly spent government money.
DAVIDSON: Take Jon Doggett, head lobbyist for the corn industry.
MONTAGNE: We have five registered lobbyists - myself and four others. Last week, we had probably 200, 250 growers in town for four days.
DAVIDSON: Adam Davidson, NPR News.
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