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Omnibus Farm Bill Should Be Scrapped

One of the biggest atrocities committed by Congress is the easy passage of the Farm Bill. About once every five years, an omnibus bill passes with a massive price tag. The last one, the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, cost $228 billion. The iteration making its way through Congress right now costs 60% more and is over 1000 pages long.

As the Fiscal Times' Liz Peek writes, "taxpayers should demand that Congress scrap this monstrosity and start over." Indeed, there's a significant push to do just that - Congressional Republicans have refused to make reauthorization of the omnibus bill an easy process this time, and the bill is stalled right now. The looming deadline to pass something is September 30th.

The American Enterprise Institute is launching an effort to convince legislators that a complete overhaul is necessary, starting with a video that illustrates "how Congress milks taxpayers."

The effort is called "American Boondoggle", and it's led by scholars Vince Smith and Henry Olsen. It's kicked off with a few important details that Americans should know about:

Fact: 80% of farm subsidies go to only 15% of farmers, most of whom are wealthier and more secure than the average American. (2010 farm household net worth: $576,745—up from $534,727 in 2007; 2010 media household net worth: $77,000—down from $126,400 in 2007)
Fact: Average crop insurance policy is subsidized $3,591 by taxpayers. Americans do not expect their neighbors to pay for the auto insurance, why should taxpayers pay for their neighbor’s crop insurance?
Fact: Americans pay $147 million per year to Brazilian cotton producers, so we can continue to subsidize American cotton producers. To avoid trade sanctions for subsidizing US cotton farmers in violation of WTO commitments, the US government also subsidizes Brazilian cotton producers.

Over at Bloomberg View, Josh Barro has written about the ridiculous rhetoric pushed by President Obama on the need to "put politics aside" and pass this year's farm bill:


This is backwards. America's food policies, which put food producers' interests ahead of of those of food consumers, are all about politics. Farmers are an effective lobby; eaters aren't.

Putting politics aside would mean getting the government out of the farm subsidy business, and forcing farmers to seek profit-making opportunities and plan for risks like other businesspeople do. It certainly wouldn't mean authorizing a new farm bill.

What's unfortunate, Barro also writes, is that the main point of contention between the parties aren't the ridiculous subsidies, but to funding levels for the food stamp (SNAP) program.

As Peek wrote for the FT, it's best to scrap the whole ridiculous enterprise.

What’s hidden in this mess? How about money for windmills, for 15 different duplicative food programs, cash – lots of it – to make sure country folk get great Internet service, a grant to study moth pheromones, funding to help ethanol producers (thought we’d gotten rid of that, didn’t you?), protection of our wealthy sugar producers, $25 million to study the health benefits of peas and lentils, an amendment that could allow Californians to continue enjoying foie gras, insurance against lower milk prices for dairy farmers, grants for the locavore movement (consult your dictionary), help for popcorn growers, grants to study how to make cut flowers last longer in a vase, a boost to organic growers (as though their price premiums aren’t sufficient compensation), a boost for maple syrup makers, lofty cotton supports and money to underwrite wine tastings overseas.

Leaving off the food stamps portion of the bill, taxpayers are essentially underwriting one of our richest industries. Farmers enjoyed record income last year and saw their land values hit all-time highs, while the rest of the country struggled.

First off, there is no reason to include food stamps, or the Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program (SNAP), in the farm bill. Republicans call it a bloated entitlement riddled with fraud and waste. Democrats call it essential to the well-being of our poor. This is undisputed: the program has doubled in size since President Obama took office. We spent $39 billion on SNAP in 2008; this year the expected total is $81 billion. A jump of that magnitude deserves scrutiny.


SNAP is an important program that deserves reauthorization, but also deserves oversight. It shouldn't be included in the farm bill. Congress should blow up the idea of an omnibus bill and tackle these issues one at a time. The American taxpayers deserve better.


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