Something Revolutionary: Break Up the Farm Bill and Food Stamp Legislation

It is amazing what a difference a year makes!  Many people are now calling for what Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham and Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN) called for in August of 2012 (sub. req’d):

For decades, an unholy Washington alliance—between rural lawmakers and their urban and suburban colleagues—has caused exponential growth in spending by combining farm policy and food stamps in one huge legislative package.

It is time to have a farm-only farm bill, and move other policies separately.

This common sense reform is beginning to resonate with people in politics, in the media, and across America.

Today, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) made the same suggestion on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

Similarly, the Washington Post editorial board’s House “farm bill” postmortem said:

Here’s what’s really going on. For decades, the farm bill has epitomized bipartisanship and coalition-building at its worst: an unholy alliance of urban and rural lawmakers of both parties who supported each other’s interests — nutrition programs and producer subsidies, respectively — without having to justify either one on its independent merits. 

The Chicago Tribune also has an editorial today about the victorious defeat of the trillion dollar food stamp and farm bill that calls for the separation of food stamps and farm policy; to do so would be “something revolutionary.”

They’re all correct.

For roughly 40 years, the farm bill’s costs have escalated out of control, as the need for farm subsidies and taxpayer-funded crop insurance decreased and food stamp participation skyrocketed.

The Chicago Tribune editorial suggests Congress take these issues separately.  Setting the stage for why reform is so necessary they explain that “since 1996, farmers have been getting hefty government checks, called direct payments, for doing nothing but being farmers.”

This is sad but true.

They add, “Over the same period, federally subsidized crop insurance has morphed from a reasonable effort to protect against drought and flood into a costly and inefficient mess.”  This program “invites fraud on a massive scale.”

“[T]he food-stamp program’s expansion to $74.6 billion in 2012 from $18.3 billion a decade ago is alarming.”

They conclude by reiterating the “revolutionary” idea:

 When farm legislation failed last year, Congress passed an extension that expires on Sept. 30. If Congress is compelled to pass another extension because its members won’t embrace reform, it should at least exclude direct payments and crop insurance from the reauthorization.

Better yet, start over. Break up the farm bill.

It’s tragic that it’s “revolutionary” to split issues that are so unrelated and so clearly connected solely for political reasons.  But that is where we find ourselves today.

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