Farm Bill Billions

Paul Weyrich

5/21/2008 12:01:00 AM - Paul Weyrich

I was interviewing one of the most liberal Democrats in the House of Representatives, Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), when suddenly he surprised me by saying, "I hope the President vetoes the farm bill and if he does I'll try to round up votes on my side of the aisle to sustain the veto." He went on to state that if the veto is sustained, "then we can start over and do it right."

Indeed, the Heritage Foundation just issued a report entitled "Seven Reasons to Veto the Farm Bill."

The author, Brian Riedl, points out that since the last farm bill was enacted in 2002 net farm income has more than doubled. Yet the new bill expands farm subsidies by some $25 billion. Moreover, the majority of these subsidies go to commercial farmers with an average income of $200,000 and a net worth of around $2 million. But the new bill continues the subsidies to multimillionaires and large agribusinesses.

This new bill also repeals income limits so some wealthy farmers will now be able to collect millions more than they are now receiving in annual subsidies.

House Rules require a PAYGO approach, so theoretically an increase in spending in a new bill requires a decrease in spending elsewhere. But the Congressional Budget Office reported that the bill is filled with gimmicks to get around the PAYGO requirements.

This bill, in addition, increases subsidy rates. As Riedl points out, despite sky-high crop prices, subsidy rates are increased for more than a dozen crops. So if prices drop from the current high levels subsidies would be triggered.

And no matter how high corn prices soar, the direct payment program states Riedl, "would force taxpayers to send $2 billion in direct payments to corn farmers every year. Wheat farmers would receive $1 billion and farmers of other crops would receive an additional $2 billion."

The bill, which Blumenauer wants the President to veto, would create a new permanent disaster-aid program. The cost? $3.8 billion over five years. Farmers already receive $20 billion in annual commodity and conservation subsidies plus an additional $3 billion in crop insurance subsidies.

Finally, the bill utterly fails to modernize farm policy for the 21st Century. We are still operating within the framework established by FDR in the 1930s. Even Canada and Australia have updated their farm programs by substituting insurance plans instead of massive subsidies to even out the fluctuations caused by weather and pest invasions.

The problem for President George W. Bush is that the farm bill passed both Houses of Congress by veto-proof majorities. That would appear to doom the effectiveness of the President's veto. But not necessarily. I recall when President Richard M. Nixon vetoed the Brademas Child Development Bill in 1971. The bill had passed with a single no vote in the House and only five no votes in the Senate. Yet after extraordinary arm-twisting the President's veto was sustained in both Houses of Congress. Assuming the President does veto the farm bill, whether the veto is sustained likely will depend upon how much effort the President and his people are willing to work on the effort.