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The Path Forward on the Farm Bill

Today, GOP leadership suffered a stunning defeat as 62 Republicans voted against the 5-year farm bill (H.R. 1947), which locks in the record baseline of food stamp spending and creates multiple new agriculture subsidy programs.  A handful of them voted against it because it cut too much spending, and others like Bill Shuster voted no because they are facing potential primary challenges (Shuster voted for the 2008 bill).  But this is a strong showing, as it is a dynamic none of us would have ever predicted several years ago.

Some Republicans are complaining that because of the conservative revolt we will now continue on the status quo with direct farm subsidies.  But they fail to understand that the new price support programs and shallow loss coverage that were created by this bill would have been more expensive and represent worse market distortions than direct subsidies.  It’s better to reauthorize the status quo than to pass a long-term bill that creates even more problems and precludes real reforms for another 5 years.

Other Republicans complain that now we will face the so-called milk cliff.  Pursuant to a silly 1949 act of Congress, every time we fail to renew expiring farm programs, the government must begin imposing Soviet-style price controls on milk by decreasing supplies through massive purchases of milk, butter, cheese, and other dairy products.  Under permanent law, the USDA would begin purchasing dairy products at a rate of $38.54 per hundredweight, more than double the current price ($18 per hundredweight).  This market manipulation could double the price of milk, dairy products, and everything else up the food chain.

But instead of avoiding the deleterious effects of the Agriculture Act of 1949 by growing government, why don’t we just repeal the dang law?

In a sane world, both houses of Congress would convene and repeal this inane and outdated law within a few minutes by unanimous consent.  That way we could debate a long-term farm bill without having the sword of the 1949 law brandished over our necks and forcing Congress to rush through bad legislation.

However, Congress is not sane, and they have no plans to repeal the law. In fact, Paul Broun introduced an amendment to do just that, but all the Democrats and more than half of Republicans voted it down. [I hope to have a full spreadsheet of all the votes on amendments out tomorrow.]

The latest ephemeral trend in Washington is to create a contrived crisis for the purpose of growing government, increasing spending, or raising taxes.  The new “milk cliff” is just the latest in the bag of tricks held by the permanent statist class.

Moving forward, we must split up the farm bill into two components; food stamps and agriculture programs.  Food stamps must be devolved to the states and most Ag subsidies need to be means-tested and charted on a gradual course towards elimination.  And most of all, the dairy supply control system must be repealed once and for all in a standalone piece of legislation.

That would represent responsible conservative reform that is becoming of a GOP-controlled House.  Working harder to buy off Democrats with more spending increases is not the way forward. If  Kevin McCarthy and Eric Cantor desire to grow government with Democrat support, maybe they should run for the Pelosi whip team.

The American people elected a Republican House to provide a bold contrast to the Obama-Pelosi agenda, not to work behind the scenes to help grow government with their support.

Cross-posted from The Madison Project

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