Townhall.com Staff

This column was written by Townhall.com intern Kyle Bonnell

Every vote in Congress can be viewed as an opportunity to either increase liberty or increase government. Right now, the Senate appears poised to choose the latter as they prepare to vote on the 2012 Farm Bill.

The 1,000-page bill that Senators Debbie Stabenow and Pat Roberts are pushing through the Senate is chock full of massive spending, new entitlements, and new regulations. With corporate welfare and generous subsidies thrown in for good measure, the bill reflects everything wrong with out-of-control government. No wonder Congress is sporting a 17 percent approval rating these days.

The farm bill is another in a long line of government boondoggles that simply builds on the big expenditures of a previous bill. The CBO estimates that the 2012 farm bill will up spending to $969 billion over the next ten years. Locking in at those levels in the midst of a debt crisis and credit downgrade is beyond fiscally irresponsible. Overall, the Senate farm bill punts on the opportunity to contribute to deficit reduction and shows a startling lack of political courage.

The 2012 farm bill’s most noticeable “reform” is the elimination of direct payments to farmers. In its place is a new entitlement program most commonly referred to as “shallow loss,” a new federal crop insurance program. It’s meant to serve as an income safety net that will automatically trigger payments to farmers when their crop yields fall below 90% of their average levels over the past five years. However, the past five years have seen a spike in crop yields, meaning that shallow loss is locking in rates that are due to fall. It’s unnecessary corporate welfare, despite what the farm lobby claims. According to the American Enterprise Institute:

“The current average debt-to-asset ratio in the farm sector is less than 9 percent and has been declining steadily over the past decade. Moreover, farms fail at a rate of less than one in two hundred a year, and, from a financial perspective, farms are better placed than almost any sector of the economy to handle year-to-year variations in revenues and costs by themselves. Yet, effectively, farmers want a tax payer-funded guarantee that their revenues will never fall below about 90 percent of their recent levels.

The addition of a farm entitlement program is one of countless examples of the federal government encouraging dependence at the expense of liberty. Additionally, telling farmers that they can keep their revenues and have the taxpayers absorb their losses invites risky behavior on their end. Apparently too-big-to-fail has yet to go out of style.

Besides entitlements, however, the farm bill is packed with out-of-control regulations. The Eggs Products Inspection Act Amendment, introduced by Senator Feinstein, is one of the clearest examples. It looks to create national standards for the housing and care of egg-laying hens, and opens the door for bureaucrats to control the way that farmers operate their businesses. Some examples of the absurdity:

“The term ‘adequate environmental enrichments’ means adequate perch space, dust bathing or scratching areas, and nest space, as defined by the Secretary of Agriculture, based on the best available science, including the most recent studies available at the time that the Secretary defines the term. The Secretary shall issue regulations defining this term not later than January 1, 2017, and the final regulations shall go into effect on December 31, 2018.

Then there are provisions dealing with the floor space for these egg laying hens:

“(A) beginning four years after the date of enactment of the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012 and until the date that is 15 years after the date of enactment of the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012, a minimum of 76 square inches of individual floor space per brown hen and 67 square inches of individual floor space per white hen; and

(B) beginning 15 years after the date of enactment of the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012, a minimum of 144 square inches of individual floor space per brown hen and 124 square inches of individual floor space per white hen.”

Yes, the same Senate that refuses to pass a one year budget is getting ready to pass a law that regulates the floor space of hen cages for the next 15 years.

Judging by Senator Stabenow’s statements and a 90-8 cloture vote, the Senate can be expected to choose bigger government over liberty. Then it’s time for the House to choose.