The U.S. Senate approved a nearly $1 trillion farm bill last week that shows there is no stopping the outlandish corporate welfare the financially strapped government continues to want to shower on big agriculture.
The crazy-glue bill has for decades bonded farm aid and food stamps. Other than they both involve food, the two have little to do with each other. They got hitched when big agricultural interests needed urban support. Urban lawmakers got help feeding the poor while rural lawmakers got what their corporate farmer sugar daddies wanted.
Which brings us to sugar, just one example of all that’s wrong in the world of farm bill politics. The Senate bill retains an expensive and unnecessary sugar subsidy that raises the price of sweets and shuts out foreign competition.
Crop insurance has become the new go-to benefit for wealthy farmers. Government, meaning taxpayers, subsidizes the insurance and farmers reap the benefits, provided they grow, or even attempt to grow, the insurable crops. This overly generous policy has led to risky farm practices, over-farming the land, and become a boondoggle for the insurers and big ag.
The Senate bill actually expands the insurance and its price tag over 10 years. While originally intended to protect farmers from drought and flood (both experienced here in recent years and deserving of a hedge against risks), it has morphed into a corporate farming entitlement, with more fraud exposed every year.
The bill does eliminate $5 billion a year in direct payments to farmers, a handout that delivered even when crop prices were high. Lawmakers love to wring hands over the deficit and budgets, except when it’s time for feeding farm supporters.
While politicians court the farm state votes, the urban poor are viewed as simply ripe for cutbacks. The Senate bill calls for a $4 billion food-stamp cut over 10 years. The House, which next takes up the bill, wants to slash food aid even more, cutting $20 billion, a dangerous move given the growth in need during the last recession.
The Senate bill, approved 66 to 27, got much bipartisan backslapping over a projected 10-year savings of $24 billion. Of the four area senators only Republican Pat Roberts voted no. While he had ill-considered plans on cutting food stamps, he appropriately argued against some farmer handouts: “I cannot justify a subsidy program that can pay producers more than the cost of production and essentially becomes nothing more than an income transfer program, not a risk management tool.”
Unfortunately, the small family farmers in Missouri and Kansas who actually work their land and have helped feed city folks here and abroad again come up short, as the massive bill that comes up for renewal every five years has little to do with family farming and much to do with government excess and waste.
The Obama administration, for example, had wanted to overhaul foreign food aid programs by buying more in less-developed lands to cut transportation costs and help support needy farmers abroad. The Senate increased the amount that may be used to purchase foreign food but stopped short of a complete revamp.
Congress is late with the bill renewal already; the current law lapses Sept. 30. Given the large difference on food stamp cuts, it will be tough to find an agreeable compromise. Legislators would better serve Americans by protecting the hungry and forgoing the money that distorts farm decisions and endangers the land at taxpayer expense.
Reprinted from the Kansas City Star with permission.