The latest House action on the $1 trillion farm bill comes straight from the playbook “Do as I Say, Not as I Do.”
House Speaker John Boehner (R–OH) says: “I am a proud advocate for free markets and fair trade.”
Representative Frank Lucas (R–OK), chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, says: “I won passage of a conservative approach to federal agriculture programs…. It provides a free market-based safety net.”
Representative Collin Peterson (D–MN), ranking member of the House Committee on Agriculture, says: “I know we can balance the budget and reduce the deficit in a responsible way.”
But as endorsed by House leaders, among others, the subsidy-laden and welfare-loaded food stamp/farm bill actually is the antithesis of “free markets and fair trade,” “conservative,” and “responsible.”
To wit, the legislation would:
- Maintain some $80 billion in food stamp spending—roughly double the level in 2008.
- Allow states to waive work requirements for able-bodied adults collecting food stamps.
- Increase the average annual cost of crop insurance subsidies to $8.9 billion for 2013–2022 from $3.1 billion in 2000–2006.
- Pay farmers whenever their crop revenues fall below 85 percent of the unusually high levels set in statute.
- Pay farmers whenever crop prices drop below the “reference prices” set by law, with virtually guaranteed payments for several crops.
- 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).
- Authorize the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to impose a tax on Christmas trees and rocks.
- Allow the wealthy (annual adjusted gross income up to $950,000) to collect agriculture subsidies.
- 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.
- Pay farmers not to grow crops.
- Spend $20 million annually to create businesses in rural areas.
- Provide taxpayer handouts for “biofuels” and “bio-refineries,” “renewable chemicals,” and “bio-based product” manufacturers.
- 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.
This costly interference in the agriculture sector is all the more unwarranted given that farmers are pulling in record levels of income and carrying record-low levels of debt. Thus, the time is particularly ripe for meaningful reform that would resurrect farming as a free enterprise.