After meandering through Congress for the past two years, the Farm Bill unceremoniously made its way to President Obama’s desk for his signature this past week. Crafted by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, this 950-page deal reconciles the differences in the versions of the Farm Bill that passed the House and the Senate this past summer. Although proponents heralded this deal as a money saver, this latest deal is actually bigger and more bloated than its predecessors.
This doublespeak on the spending levels arises from the problematic way Washington scores the bill: Even though Congress reauthorizes the Farm Bill every 5 years, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scores it over 10. This enables Congress to increase spending in years 1-5 and push the savings to years 6-10. These savings will never be realized since Farm Bill programs will expire after year 5 and we'll be on to the next Farm Bill by then—one that, like its predecessors, increases spending in the early years and pushes the phantom savings to the later years.
Consider the recent Farm Bill conference report as a prime case in point. Proponents claim that the deal would reduce direct spending by $16.6 billion over the next 10 years. But a closer at the CBO score reveals that 74 percent of the savings happen in years 6-10. These savings will be on paper only.
These budget gimmicks overlook the fact that the 2013 Farm Bill dramatically increases spending in the early years. In 2014, for instance, the Farm Bill conference report increases budget authority by over $3 billion over 2008 farm law. This is a dramatic increase.
When Washington fails to provide an honest account for how much the federal government spends on food and farm programs, it reduces the chance of reform. It hides the fact that this conference report is chock full of corporate welfare for politically-connected agribusinesses and unchecked nutrition spending. As a result, we spend more and more with each Farm Bill reauthorization. As federal spending grows increasingly out of control, American taxpayers deserve a more complete and honest analysis of what goes into these ever-growing spending bills.
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