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Farm Bill Bashing

May 15, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

Apparently the Farm Bill, which is opposed by just about anyone who has been paying attention, is actually quite popular among members of Congress. Although the bill does almost nothing to address growing concerns over the U.S. agricultural subsidies system that rewards wealthy farmers and tilts the food market in favor of cheap, unhealthy junk food, it managed to pass both the House and Senate with overwhelming, veto-proof majorities. That’s because the bill has a little something for everyone – a food-stamp increase for urban senators and reps., money for salmon fisherman in the Pacific Northwest, new citrus subsidies fro those from Florida and California, a race-horse-owner tax break for the Senate Minority Leader from Kentucky, etc.

But that’s not really surprising; it happens all the time with massive bills like these that are actually just politically-convenient bundles of semi-related parts. Here’s a rundown of some of what people are saying about the underlying bill that was shepherded through both the Senate and House largely by the little gifts that were attached to it:

Agriculture Secretary Ed Shafer:

>The bill passed today is a farm bill in name only. It does not target help for the farmers who really need it, and it increases the size and cost of government while jeopardizing the future of legitimate farm programs by damaging the credibility of farm bills in general. At a time of record setting income for farmers, it sends the wrong message to the rest of the country who are not experiencing the boom of the agriculture sector. This bill is loaded with taxpayer funded pet projects at a time when Americans are struggling to buy groceries and afford gas to get to work.

Wall Street Journal:

>A bigger scam is the new income limit to qualify for subsidies. Mr. Bush sought a $200,000 annual income cap, but Congress can’t bring itself to go below $750,000. Even that is a farce, because it doesn’t include loan programs and disaster payments, and it allows spouses to qualify for payments too. The White House and liberal reformers calculate that farm owners with clever accountants can have incomes of up to $2.5 million and still get a taxpayer handout.
>Several weeks ago, Senate Agriculture Chairman Tom Harkin was asked by the Des Moines Register how many farmers in Iowa would be excluded under the new income cap. His answer: “two or three.” On tax policy Mr. Harkin and his fellow Democrats talk endlessly about soaking the rich, but on farm policy they favor soaking the middle class to pay the rich.

Richard Posner:

>The deregulation movement passed agriculture by, leaving in place a series of government programs that lack any economic justification and at the same time are regressive. They should offend liberals on the latter score and conservatives on the former; their firm entrenchment in American public policy illustrates the limitations of the American democratic system. A million farmers receive subsidies in a variety of forms (direct crop subsidies, R&D, crop insurance, federal loans, ethanol tariffs, export subsidies, emergency relief, the food-stamp program, and more), which will cost in the aggregate, under the pending Farm Bill, some $50 billion a year, or $50,000 per farmer on average. Farm subsidies account for about a sixth of total farm revenues. So, not surprisingly, the income of the average farmer is actually above the average of all American incomes, and anyway 74 percent of the subsidies go to the 10 percent largest farm enterprises. The subsidies are regressive, especially during a recession coinciding with worldwide food shortages (i.e., high prices).

Environmental Defense Fund:

>“With crop prices and farm incomes at record levels, Congress missed a once-in-five-years opportunity to reduce farm subsidies,” Hopper said. “Instead, Congress has increased support levels for some crops, added new crops to the subsidy roll, and failed to make any significant reduction in direct payments. Direct payments will cost over $5 billion a year for the next five years and mostly flow to producers of corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton and rice regardless of how high prices are or whether the farmer needs the assistance.”

Heritage Foundation’s Brian Riedl via NRO:

>The program is nothing more than a massive income transfer from American taxpayers to a small handful of very large producers who grow just a few crops; the program can’t be serving the purposes its defenders claim it does — ensuring a stable food supply and keeping farmers out of poverty — considering that a majority of American farmers do just fine without government aid; and disputes over the large U.S. and EU farm-subsidy programs have opened an apparently unbridgeable divide between developed and developing countries in the current round of multilateral trade talks. The only conclusion one can reasonably draw is that the system is broken and ought to be scrapped.

Finally, this image from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine speaks volumes about our crop subsidies system:

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