President Obama included a small but very reasonable suggestion for reforming and bettering the way the United States delivers food aid in his (very late) budget proposal, but sadly, the response from the all-too-interested parties has been all too predictable.
As the U.S. food aid program functions now, the government is required to buy most of the food from American farmers and then ship it overseas to poverty-stricken areas — but dumping subsidized food into these areas can have some pretty awful unintended (or is it, overlooked?) consequences on local market stability and these regions’ abilities to consistently produce their own food (not to mention, some of our money then goes toward shipping costs instead of actual food). For years, certain lawmakers (and now President Obama) have been trying to revamp the program to allow for flexibility in where and how the U.S. can spend its allotted food-aid dollars; namely, from wherever the food is most cheaply and efficiently available, whether that might mean the United States or somewhere closer to where the food is actually needed.
If the true aim of the food aid program is really about getting the most bang for our buck in delivering relief to impoverished areas, and not about protecting an assured subsidy for American producers, then President Obama’s proposal is a good one. It means that more money would be spent directly and food, and that food would then reach an even greater number of people. Unfortunately, plenty of farm-state interests don’t happen to see it that way. Via the NYT:
During hearings last week, Representative Robert B. Aderholt, Republican of Alabama, the chairman of the House agriculture subcommittee, said he was concerned that removing food aid from the agriculture budget would hurt American farmers.
Representative Sam Farr of California, the committee’s ranking Democrat, also questioned the transfer, raising concerns about the subcommittee losing oversight of the program.
“I’m not endorsing the transfer — the realignment — until there are assurances that the program will remain intact and not be raided by other foreign ops interest,” Mr. Farr said at the hearing.
Mr. Farr expressed doubts about the proposal’s chances of success. “I don’t think it will happen this year,” he said. “That’s the politics.”
There has been a similar response from members of the Senate agriculture subcommittee. Senator Mark Pryor, Democrat of Arkansas, the chairman of the subcommittee, along with Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, the ranking Republican, both said that they were opposed to transferring food aid dollars out of the agriculture budget.
The power of the agricultural lobby to unite both Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the defense of special interests never ceases to amaze.