Is the Farm Bill Worth Passing?
This week, a number of House Republicans and House Democrats are trying to force action on the so-called “farm bill” the House Agriculture Committee passed in July. The bill, which includes billions in direct farm subsidies, will cost $100 billion per year for five years if made into law. Approximately 80% of that cost is related to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps.
The good thing is the farm bill appears to lack the support to get the votes necessary for passage through the House this week. As such, the House will go to its seven-week recess and not consider the farm bill for passage until after the November elections. Considering that the farm bill is far more about welfare than farm support – both of which are constitutionally and financially challenging – the House leadership should be commended for not rushing its passage without a full House debate and input from grassroots activists.
However, not all conservatives believe the bill should be held up. In a statement to Dustin Siggins of Tea Party Patriots, Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD) stated the bill’s $35 billion in savings over ten years was worth supporting. Noem is one of the Republicans pushing action on the bill:
Ensuring we can produce our own food is a national security issue. That is why the Farm bill is so important. However, nearly 80 percent of the Farm Bill goes to food stamps. This program has exploded in costs, and it needs to be reined in. The bill I support would reform the food stamp program to make it more accountable to taxpayers, repeal or consolidate more than 100 programs, and save more than $35 billion. This bill is by no means perfect, but it promotes agriculture’s role in our national security and provides certainty for farmers and ranchers so they can continue investing and feeding America and the world.
Herein lies the major problem for supporters of the bill, who are primarily from states with large farm populations: according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the food stamp program has gone from spending $18 billion in 2000 to $78 billion in 2011 – including a growth of $40 billion between 2007 and 2011. Looking at the math spelled out by the CBO, this means only 43% of the program’s growth in the last 12 years can be attributed to the recent recession and the current weak recovery.
Other problems with the bill include the fact that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has advertised for people to consider the food stamp program for their families – which begs the question of whether the USDA considers government dependence a positive for society. There is also a measurable amount of trackable fraud and improper payments in the food stamp program, which combined totaled approximately 4.9% in 2011 – though Noem’s office says oversight is better in the 2012 farm bill than in the one about to expire. There is also some amount of corporate welfare for companies like JPMorgan Chase.
Unfortunately, the farm bill is not the only overly expensive, constitutionally-challenged social program in the federal government. Data compiled by Just Facts President Jim Agresti shows that $19,316 of average household income consisted of federal social spending in 2010. Compare this to the Federal Reserve’s estimate that the average American household income in 2010 was $45,800.
And this is why Tea Party activists are outraged by the farm bill – it will spend more money we don’t have and create more dependence on the federal government. Again, 80% of the bill is food stamps; which leads me to conclude it’s not a farm bill, it’s a welfare bill. With Monday being the 225th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution, one is reminded to ask: where in the Constitution is federal welfare allowed? Nowhere, and that’s the problem.