Thursday, February 28, 2008

SF Chronicle: Dems work to keep subsidies

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(02-28) 04:00 PST Washington - -- As Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton toured the land denouncing special interests, giveaways to the rich, home foreclosures, job losses and a middle-class squeeze, back in Washington House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats met behind closed doors on a plan to raise taxes and cut food stamp money to protect billions of dollars for agribusiness, a sector of the economy that is booming.

The negotiators agreed Tuesday to find $10 billion in extra money in a last-ditch effort to save the farm bill, once seen as an opportunity to reform commodity programs and divert scarce funds to conservation, nutrition, organic research and California fruit and vegetable growers who are locked out of the Depression-era programs. The money is needed to appease these interests while still maintaining the commodity subsidies. Yet in proposals so far, those areas get trimmed to keep the subsidies flowing.

The subsidies demanded by the farm lobby would help big corn, wheat and soybean growers in areas where income is shattering records, credit is flowing and real estate values soaring.

Because of government ethanol subsidies and rising demand for grain in developing nations, grain farmers are enjoying such whopping price increases that food inflation is becoming a worry. U.S. bakers are even urging a restriction on grain exports to try to dampen prices.