Conservatives Must Reject False Choice on Farm Bill
“What is truly scary – what is truly risky – is if we do nothing. If we let this moment pass – if we keep the system the way it is right now … The status quo is not working.” – Pres. Barack Obama, August 11, 2009
1,410 days later, some House Republicans are adopting the very same logic to sell their massive $940 billion food stamp and farm bill to skeptical conservatives. In their mind, a vote against a bill that locks in Pres. Obama’s record food stamp spending is a vote for the status quo.
Conservatives rightly rejected Pres. Obama’s false choice in 2009. Everyone recognized then that the health care system was in desperate need of reform, but conservatives understood Obamacare was not the answer. Similarly, many recognize our nation’s current agriculture and nutrition programs are in desperate need of reform, but the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013 (H.R. 1947) is not the solution.
In fact, the Rules Committee unilaterally shut down the best avenue for reform, an amendment offered by Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN) that would have allowed for separate consideration of agriculture and nutrition programs.
According to BuzzFeed, Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) told House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) that he’d “vote for just about anything in the farm bill if we got rid of the nutrition part of it. If we broke that unholy alliance between Ag and nutrition once and for all, then I could vote for just about every subsidy in the book they could think of if they could make some real structural long term changes.”
Instead, the House bill touts major reforms like shaving a mere 2.5 percent off record high food stamp spending. Remember, food stamp spending doubled under Pres. George W. Bush and again under Pres. Obama. That is weak sauce, to put it mildly.
Heritage also notes the bill “would spend more than Obama on the most expensive farm program.” When it comes to farm subsidies, this bill makes Pres. Obama look like a fiscal conservative. Heritage explains the legislation would also:
- Pay farmers whenever their crop revenues fall below 85 percent of the unusually high levels set in statute.
- Maintain import quotas on sugar, which raise the price of all sweetened food products.
- Restrict dairy supplies to inflate prices and generate greater revenues for farmers (and expand the costs of taxpayer-subsidized commodity purchases).
- Increase subsidies to larger, higher-income agriculture operations, thereby making it more difficult for small farm operations to compete.
- Empower the USDA to restrict milk supplies to maintain higher prices.
- Spend $1 million a year on grants to nonprofit groups to “educate” the government and private companies about the benefits of “biodiesel.”
- Impose trade restrictions to inflate cotton prices.
- Spend $40 million a year to redecorate farmers’ market stalls and roadside stands.
- Subsidize the marketing of sheep and goats.
- Dedicate $137.5 million to promote farmers’ use of healthy plants.
- Impose import controls on olive oil.
- Pay states and local governments to install wood-burning heating systems.
- Authorize $5 million annually for grants to politically favored think tanks.
- Enable needy food stamp recipients to use their iPhones to make grocery purchases.
- Expand food stamp benefits among the 58,000 inhabitants of 15 islands in the western Pacific Ocean.
By supporting this bill, lawmakers are voting to lock in these terrible policies (and many more) for another five years. That is not conservative; rather, it is merely an attempt to prevent the very types of reforms Heritage Action and lawmakers like Stutzman and Mulvaney are pushing for.
Conservative lawmakers do not have to buy into the Obama-style false choice being peddled by some farm state lawmakers and numerous leadership aides. If the five-year food stamp and farm bill goes down in flames, they are positioned for real reform.