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June 18, 2013 10:32 AM Will House Republicans Save Food Aid Reform?

By Jonathan Zasloff

These next 48 hours are critical for advancing reform of US international food aid, which I have blogged about previously. Short version: because current rules essentially demand that we provide aid in food grown in the US via government subsidy, our current aid regime wastes money, delays delivery of aid by weeks, lines the pockets of agribusiness and big shipping, often undermines farmers in the Global South, and leaves 2-4 million people starving who could otherwise be helped.

The basic answer is to allow food to be procured locally; the Obama Administration’s budget proposal did just that, and was given the back of the hand by special interests in the Senate. The Senate bill, which passed the Upper House, did add some extra money for local procurement, but fell far short of what was really needed. The pathetic justifications offered by the agribusiness and shipping lobbies show just how weak their policy position is.

And now — maybe the House to the rescue.The House? The current House? You gotta be kidding, right?

Wrong. The hero here is House International Relations Committee chair Ed Royce, a very conservative Republican from Orange County, who studied the way food aid rules work, and got outraged. That’s hardly odd for a conservative, because farm policy represents about the clearest case of government waste we have. It didn’t hurt, of course, that allowing for local procurement would also take much food aid from the Agriculture Committee and give it to the IR committee, but that really wasn’t what was happening here: this is an outrage and everyone who looks at it realizes it.

Originally, Royce teamed up with IR Global Affairs Subcommittee ranking member Karen Bass, a liberal African-American Democrat from Los Angeles, to introduce the Food Aid Reform Act, which would allow for local procurement as a general matter. Before the House can vote on that, however, it needs to consider the Farm Bill, so Royce and IR Committee ranking member Eliot Engel (D – NY) have proposed an amendment to the House bill that essentially replicates the Food Aid Reform Act. The House will consider that amendment as early as Wednesday.

Think about that for a second: “the House will consider that amendment as early as Wednesday.” That says a lot. Amendments don’t get considered on the floor of the House unless the Rules Committee allows them to be considered, and the Rules Committee doesn’t allow them to be considered unless it’s okay with the leadership. That means that at least, there is substantial support in the Republican Conference for this measure. GOP to the rescue!

Of course, they should support it. Reforming food aid to allow for local procurement (as well as other crucial reforms) is such a no-brainer that it is perhaps the last genuinely bipartisan policy initiative out there. Don’t believe me? Even the Heritage Foundation favors this. Does that make you as a liberal Democrat get nauseous? Well, me too, sort of, but the same reforms are backed by the Center for American Progress.

So now — which is to say, right now, as soon as the business day starts in Washington DC — call your Congresscritter and ask them to support the Royce-Engel Amendment (#55) to the Farm Bill.

But really: call. write. E-mail. This means life or death for people. Do it.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-based Community]

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Jonathan Zasloff is a professor of law at the University of California, Los Angeles.
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