Farm Bill Update: It’s Headed Nowhere Fast

Some Members of Congress don’t feel very optimistic about the passage of the new farm and food stamp bill – or even an extension – before they leave town this week for their final election sprint.  Today, the West Central Tribune described Rep. Collin Peterson’s (D-MN) frustration with this delay.  He accused Republicans of playing games, rather than passage of the 5-year extension.

Proponents of the new farm bill are the ones playing games, though.  They claim that if it is not passed, taxpayers will incur greater costs.   When the current bill expires, “federal law requires crop price supports to default to those in the 1949 farm bill — much higher than today for commodities such as milk and wheat.”  It’s an ominous threat, but as AEI’s Vince Smith notes, the “sky won’t fall” if there is no farm bill by October 1.

However, if taxpayers’ wellbeing is lawmakers’ real concern, rushing to pass the farm bill is ill advised.  It would cost taxpayers nearly $1 trillion over the next ten years.  Heritage’s Diane Katz has pointed out that “farm subsidies constitute the nation’s largest corporate welfare program—the costs of which burden taxpayers and increase food prices.”  She adds:

“Dramatic changes in the agricultural landscape have rendered Depression-era farm policies and their progeny wholly obsolete. The tangle of corporate welfare, price controls, and import restrictions are downright perverse in an era of record-high farm income and a record-low ratio of farm debt. But even in lean years, the outsized “safety net” shrouds fundamental free-market principles and free trade.”

Despite conservative calls to reform the farm bill, there are lawmakers on both sides of the aisle that would like to see the bill passed.  The Hill reports:

“The conservative pressure group Club for Growth on Monday said it will key-vote [against] support for the farm bill discharge petition currently available for signatures in the House.  Some Republicans have joined the effort to force House GOP leaders to hold a vote on the House Agriculture Committee’s five-year farm bill.  As of Friday, 53 members had signed the petition, which needs a majority of 218 to succeed.”

The bottom line is that conservatives in Congress are not just trying to be difficult.  Instead, their hesitation stems from a desire for reform.  They want to avoid trapping Americans into another five-year cycle of market distortions and taxpayer subsidies to wealthy farmers.



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