Over the last eight months, Tea Party Patriots has written a series of posts highlighting how anti-free market and fiscally irresponsible the farm bill is. While pressure from Tea Party activists and others helped the farm bill fail in June, the House managed to squeak the farm subsidy portion through on Thursday.
So what’s the big deal with the farm bill? How bad is it? Do we need to continue this fight for spending that’s less than 3% of the federal budget?
Two weeks ago, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) discussed the farm bill in a town hall. He tried to defend it – H/T to Tea Party Patriots’ Oklahoma State Coordinator, Matthew Vermillion, and the Tulsa 9/12 group for video of the town hall, which is embedded below – saying around minute 39 why his constituents should support both farm subsidies and the food stamps portion of the bill:
The Chairman’s points basically boil down to a claim that the bill is as fiscally conservative as he could make it, and that Americans have to trust him that this is the first step in fixing the entire process. Furthermore, as the Chairman explained in the video, unlike many other programs, knocking down the farm bill is problematic. The Chairman explains this how the food stamp portion of the farm bill is something that continues “in perpetuity,” meaning like Medicare, Social Security, and a host of other social welfare programs are automatically funded unless Congress directly defunds it. Furthermore, not passing a bill for the farm portion simply keeps funding going at a different level of financial involvement.
To some degree, the Chairman’s claims of fiscal conservatism are defensible. The bill the House voted down makes some significant changes to current policy, including shutting down or consolidating over 100 programs, and “saves” taxpayers $40 billion (as compared to the Congressional Budget Office’s projections of cost) between the farm and food stamp portions. Direct payments are ended, and it provides reform of the food stamp program for the first time in 17 years.
This is how Chairman Lucas summarized his thoughts on the bill on the House floor:
- If you’re serious about reducing billions of dollars in mandatory government spending, then the FARRM Act deserves your vote.
- If you’re serious about reducing the size and cost of the federal government, then the FARRM Act deserves your vote.
- If you’re serious about making sure every American has a safe, affordable, and reliable food supply, then the FARRM Act deserves your vote.
- If you are serious about working together in a bipartisan way for the American people to achieve reforms and savings, then the FARRM Act deserves your vote.
In short, the whole farm bill debate is a mess. That’s why the entire farm bill needs to be scrapped. Consider at least three reasons Chairman Lucas provided in the video: First, it distorts markets. Second, it spends too much. And third, it is a social/corporate welfare bill that gets automatically renewed if Congress does not re-examine it – thus giving Congress the ability to spend without actually voting for it.
Here are more details on the bill’s failings:
- Chairman Lucas’ wife, Senator Chuck Grassley’s (R-IA) wife, and other famous and connected people have received taxpayer payments over the years, and corporate welfare is part of the food stamp program as well.
- While the Chairman’s effort to keep food stamps only providing for the poor is commendable, it is doubtful the USDA will stop its massive efforts to enroll people.
- Limiting who can receive food stamps does not counter the enormous growth in the program since 2001 and 2008.
- It is largely wealthy agriculture companies and farms that benefit from the market-distorting subsidies in the farm bill.
- There is still a lack of transparency – no one knows how food stamp money is spent.
Again, in the grand scheme of things, the entire farm bill (food stamps plus farm subsidies) is barely more than 2.5% of the federal budget. But it showcases the entire problem America faces, from unconstitutionally playing favorites with taxpayer money, to increasing government dependence/control, to expanding spending whenever government sees fit.
Side note: regarding the Chairman’s point about America’s food supply, we somehow survived as a country before the farm bill came into existence.
However, again, voting no won’t solve the problems facing the farm bill; it will simply revert to past spending without major changes to its structure. As such, Congress should not only knock down the existing bills, but also pass legislation that would more severely cut spending or eliminate the farm bill in its entirety.
To do anything less – as Chairman Lucas asks constituents to do in the video – is to ask America to trust that Congress will make it better next time. After the way Congress delayed and nearly overturned sequestration, call me a cynic for not giving that trust to the Chairman and his colleagues. Just take a look at this article in The Hill, which reports that the CBO expects the bill that just passed the House will make farm subsidies permanent, thus avoiding scrutiny when the subsidies are considered for renewal.