WASHINGTON — A dozen congressional Democrats today proposed sweeping changes in U.S. farm policy that they said would offer suffering farmers higher incomes at the expense of about $13 billion more in consumer food bills.
The changes proposed by the Democrats would include sharply higher government price supports for commodities such as wheat and corn, together with provision for farmer-imposed curbs on production.
Sponsors contended that the changes would help get rid of price-depressing surpluses and give farmers a way to earn their way out of the current financial stress in rural America.
The legislation is sharply at odds with a stack of other suggested farm bills being proposed to replace the law that expires Sept. 30. Those bills, for the most part, would reduce price supports in order to make U.S. commodities more competitive in the export market.
"This is the only bill that would increase net farm income immediately," said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the bill's primary sponsor. He said higher commodity prices might further cut into the volume of already slumping U.S. farm exports, but contended the dollar value of those exports would increase.
Harkin also said the bill would solve one of the biggest current headaches of farm policy makers: the high cost of federal subsidies. He claimed the measure would cost only $11 billion for price supports over the next three years, far less than the $29 billion figure in a proposed Senate budget agreement.
A major reason for the saving would be a shift of the costs from subsidies to higher consumer food prices, he said. The bill would boost consumer costs an estimated 4% in its first year--about $13 billion--and an additional 0.5% a year for the next decade.
Sponsors said while there is little chance the measure will be accepted wholesale by Congress, it could play an important role in changing the debate on what to do about long-term agriculture policy.