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There are many, many problems with the House farm bill being debated this week but there are two amendments that would make significant improvements. The first (#55 in this list) is a version of the Royce-Bass Food Aid Reform Act that would provide authorization to untie up to 45 percent of the emergency food aid budget and allow the US Agency for International Development to provide assistance in whatever form—food purchased in the US or locally, vouchers, or cash transfers—would help the most people the quickest. The amendment, from Chairman Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Member Engel (D-NY) of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also makes the practice of monetization discretionary and limits it to 15 percent of nonemergency food aid. Will McKitterick and I estimated that such a reform might allow the current budget to reach an additional 4 million to 10 million needy people.

The second key amendment is sponsored by Bob Gibbs (R-OH) and Ron Kind (D-WI) and it would make the most troublesome provision in the House bill, the price loss coverage option, a bit less troublesome. The House bill approved by the Agriculture Committee includes fixed price targets and ties payments to current levels of production, which make it more distorting—and more likely to violate US commitments at the World Trade Organization—than the program it replaces, which bases payments on historical acres planted and does not require current production. The Gibbs-Kind amendment would change the fixed price target to a moving average and restore the link to past rather than current production.

The House Rules Committee is meeting this afternoon to decide which amendments will be allowed to go forward and the House is expected to start debating the bill on the floor later tonight or tomorrow.