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FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR

The New Farm Bill is a Disaster

As I noted this morning, when GOP leadership is forced to offer us a handful of concessions on policy, they take from us two handfuls.  Today’s farm bill, which is being touted as a conservative bill because it separated out food stamps, is a textbook example of this paradigm.  It will create permanent Soviet-style federal control of farm policy.

Conservatives have long advocated three reforms to the farm/food stamp bill.  First, we must permanently separate food stamps from agriculture.  Second, we must permanently repeal the 1938 and 1949 laws that create a “milk cliff,” at which 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.   Third, we should take the two separate components and reform each one separately – block grant food stamps and gradually phase out federal involvement in subsidizing agriculture.

Leadership is now employing a subterfuge in which they are, on paper, acceding to the first two suggestions.  They are passing an agriculture-only bill today, along with a repeal of the odious dairy production control triggers.  But it’s the third suggestion where they not only fail to act, but actually obviate any benefit from the first two positive steps.

Not only does today’s farm bill fail to downsize federal involvement in farming, it actually adds a number of more costly market-distorting  crop insurance and target price programs.  Worse, it does so on a permanent basis.

This bill creates numerous programs including the Price Loss Coverage program, the Revenue Loss Coverage program, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, Supplemental Coverage Option for crop insurance, Stacked Income Protection Plan for Producers of Upland Cotton, and Peanut Revenue Crop Insurance.

But at least we repealed the milk cliff?  Right?

Well, we’ve gotten something worse than the milk cliff.  As a means of punishing conservatives, the House Rules Committee stuck in something worse to replace it with.  They take all the new target price and crop insurance programs and make them permanent!  So they won’t even expire after 5 years.  Far from making this the first step in downsizing government, not only does this bill preclude real reforms for 5 years, it locks in the new programs forever.  So now, if conservatives want to leverage reforms into the next farm bill, they will be stuck with all these programs that are unassailable.  They even made the sugar subsidies permanent. 

Conservatives understand that we can’t eliminate 75 years of anti-market farm policy overnight, but we need to chart a course in that direction over the next 5-10 years.  Instead, this bill grows government and makes it more permanent than ever before.

This is a teachable moment in the way leadership conducts themselves and the contempt in which they regard conservatism.  I’ll be meeting today with some more “disruptive” candidates, and this farm bill will be my first lesson on the agenda.

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