WASHINGTON (AP) - A House committee voted Tuesday to cut farm subsidies to pay for deficit reduction and other budget priorities, chipping away at the billions of dollars a year that are directed to farmers.
The votes in the House Appropriations Committee may be a preview of what is expected to be a tough year for agriculture programs. Congressional lawmakers have increasingly looked to billions of dollars in farm subsidies as a source of money for other priorities as crop prices have reached record levels.
In a surprise move, the committee approved an amendment by Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., to lower the maximum adjusted gross income a farmer can have to earn certain subsidies. While many farmers can now make as much as $750,000 annually and still receive subsidies, Flake's amendment would lower the threshold for some to $250,000. Flake did not say how much money would be saved by the change but said those dollars would go toward reducing the deficit.
The committee also approved an amendment by Flake to use domestic farm subsidies to pay for $147 million in annual payments to Brazil's cotton sector to settle a World Trade Organization dispute. The committee later eliminated those payments to Brazil entirely, shifting the money to domestic feeding programs.
Both of Flake's amendments would dip into direct payments to farmers, which are a type of subsidy paid regardless of crop price or yield. They cost the government about $5 billion a year and have been a frequent target of critics.
The two amendments passed by unanimous consent, which Flake said may be a sign of debates to come.
"It says a lot that no one is publicly willing to defend this kind of largesse," he said later.
The original bill written by Republicans had made large cuts to domestic feeding programs and foreign food aid but no major cuts to farm subsidy programs. Democrats and some conservatives criticized that legislation because it did not dip into subsidies.