A necessary act

The Baltimore Sun

The Senate passed a $307 billion farm bill yesterday that would continue the enormously wasteful policy of providing billions in subsidies to affluent farm families whether they plant or not. The bill also lacks tight restraint on commodity subsidies and other urgently needed reforms. Throw in millions for a variety of special interests, including racehorse owners and salmon fishing businesses, and you have what appears to be a legislative Frankenstein that deserves to be dismembered.

But as deeply flawed as it is, the legislation offers far more for ordinary Americans than any likely alternative. Its virtues include a $10.3 billion increase in food stamps and other nutrition programs, much more aid for farmland environmental initiatives and new aid for small farmers, like many in Maryland, who grow fruits and vegetables for local markets. It also takes steps toward reining in the most wasteful commodities programs: It includes an income cap for aid to farmers, a $1.7 billion cut in commodity program spending and a $1.2 billion cut in the disruptive subsidy for turning corn into ethanol. Even environmental groups and others who have been harshly critical of earlier versions of the bill favor this compromise. And that's why we reluctantly encourage Congress to override President Bush's anticipated veto.

For Maryland, the bill offers $438 million over the next 10 years to restore the Chesapeake Bay, the estuary's first mandatory federal investment, and provides added food stamp aid for 131,000 state residents. There's also $1.25 billion for food banks, school lunches and Women, Infants and Children. Families will be allowed to deduct all child care expenses in calculating their income and the amount of benefit they will receive.

When Mr. Bush condemns the farm bill as "bloated and expensive," he's right. It will take a new Congress and president to find ways to remove more of the farm aid bloat and achieve more substantive reform. But in these hard times, we favor this pragmatic compromise that will provide significant help for Americans who need it most.

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