Apparently, this time the angle is ensuring “alternate fuels” in the form of grain-based ethanol. But ethanol isn’t the panacea it’s made out to be. Along with the energy consumed to make ethanol, the switch over to millions of acres to corn fuel production has already meant crop shortages and high returns to farmers, from cotton to wheat and soy. And if we really want ethanol to supplant gas, it would be far cheaper to allow Brazil to export us sugar-based ethanol without high tariffs.
The result is that there is absolutely no need for this federal relic for 21st-century prospering farmers. Republicans should disavow the program on the grounds it goes against their professed creed of free markets, self-reliance and small government.
Democrats have even less reason to vote for these big giveaways to large and often corporate farms — two-thirds of the direct payouts going to the wealthiest 10 percent of growers. Isn’t corporate welfare at odds with the little-guy, egalitarian concerns of traditional liberals?
If these farm bills are illogical and contrary to the beliefs of both parties, why then do they continue?
Hint: They seem to be passed in election years — 1996, 2002 and soon 2008. While there are few farmers left, there are still a lot of farm senators and congressional representatives — and electoral votes in about a dozen key rural states.
Agribusiness lobbyists fund politicians’ campaigns. In return, grateful politicians promise donors someone else’s federal dollars. Then both groups think up creative ways to keep the money rolling in.
The $280 billion-plus farm bill is not the largest waste of federal funds, but it is the most unnecessary — and dishonest. We are running federal budget deficits — this year’s is about the size of the proposed multiyear farm bill — engaged in two costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and spending billions in anti-terrorist security at home.
So why also give away more billions to the affluent of an industry that, overall, is doing quite well?
The shameful thing is not that the farm bill will probably pass, but that it was even introduced.