Debra J. Saunders

Even modest reforms are doomed. Sens. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., have introduced the Fresh (for Farm, Ranch, Energy Stewardship and Health) Act, which would replace crop subsidies with an insurance program, directing the projected $20 billion in savings toward conservation, nutrition programs and budget deficit reduction. Supporter Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, told me, "I don't see the Fresh Act getting through the Senate. Despite the logic, there's too much pressure from the farm community to continue the subsidies."

And this bill would not slash federal farm spending. "We would certainly prefer that all savings go to reduce the deficit," Schatz noted, but moving the savings to other spending was the only way Lugar and Lautenberg could get any support.

Or put another way: In Washington, it is easier to pass a bad bill than a good bill.

It doesn't even matter that many farmers believe that subsidies hurt family farmers and encourage factory farming. A Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City study found that the rural counties that got the most subsidies suffered the worst population loss and weakest job growth. And still there is no turning off the spigot.

Bruce Babcock, director of Iowa State University's Center for Agricultural and Rural Development, told Time magazine, "It only makes sense if the mission is finding ways to shovel money to farmers."

No, it only makes sense if the mission is to buy re-election and partisan control by taking money from all taxpayers and giving it to a powerful few. It only makes sense because, beyond all reason, voters let their elected officials get away with it.

Debra J. Saunders

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