Last week I wrote on the perils facing an opposition party, especially an opposition party that only controls one half of one branch of government and has a leadership that seems mostly composed of ninnies [Obamacare and the Governing Trap]. Today we have yet another example of what happens to conservative principles when they come into close contact with the good governance types.
This particular example comes from the way the farm bill is shaping up.
Most Americans don’t care much about the farm bill as most of us don’t farm and live far enough removed from farming that we have stopped associating eating with farming.
The farm bill consists of two parts. Part one, and this is the part that is most interest to the Ruling Class, is baksheesh to various American agricultural interests. Part two is the federal food stamp program (also known as the Supplemental Nutrional Assistance Program or SNAP).
Some of the programs I don’t have a problem in principle with, for instance, federal crop insurance. Others are nonsensical. Good, bad, or indifferent parts aside, the Farm Bill is used as a vehicle to pay billions of dollars to political constituencies leaving the American people with little to show for it but the tab.
Back in 2006, when evil Republicans controlled Congress and the White House the Washington Post actually found time to do some reporting. In a series called Harvesting Cash, it took the time to show how the farm bill distorts the agricultural sector to the benefit of the powerful. It bears reading again today.
No more. Now it runs op-eds like this one entitled Farm Bill would cut benefits for women farmers and low income mothers:
Women farmers rely on a particular type of government program: The one that pays them to keep their land out of production. Land retirement programs account for 56 percent of government payments received by farms operated by women, compared with 20 percent for farms operated by men (The data are from the 2007 Census of Agriculture and reported in the USDA’s “Characteristics of Women Farm Operators and Their Farms.”)
Don’t know about you but a farmer that doesn’t farm doesn’t sound like a farmer to me. This is not a subsidy it is a sinecure.
And speaking of sinecures, let’s look at the sugar subsidy program.
One of the bogeymen being used to stampede lawmakers towards passing a Farm Bill is the idea that milk prices will skyrocket:
Without last-minute Congressional action, the government would have to follow an antiquated 1949 farm law that would force Washington to buy milk at wildly inflated prices, creating higher prices in the dairy case. Milk now costs an average of $3.65 a gallon.
Higher prices would be based on what dairy farm production costs were in 1949, when milk production was almost all done by hand. Because of adjustments for inflation and other technical formulas, the government would be forced by law to buy milk at roughly twice the current market prices to maintain a stable milk market.
The solution to this seems pretty obvious: repeal the law rather than amending it with each farm bill. But that would take away a source on income to some lobbyist and interest group and we couldn’t have that…
The real abuse in the Farm Bill is the way it has historically been paired with the completely unrelated food stamps program. This allows the political graft to flow freely using the cover of helping the poor. One of the major advances that House conservatives have achieved is decoupling the two. As it stands this Farm Bill will authorize food stamps for three years and authorize the farm programs for five which essentially breaks the linkage in out years.
This is shaping up to be a cave by the House to the Ruling Class interests in the Senate. From National Journal we get this in an article titled Farm Bill Conference Begins With Members Determined to ‘Show How to Govern.‘
House and Senate farm bill conferees used the first and possibly only public meeting Wednesday to once again articulate their differences on agriculture and nutrition policy, but the tone was conciliatory and congressional farm leaders made plans to continue negotiations next week even though the House is out of session.
[Mississippi Senator Thad] Cochran, who once served in the House, said he was impressed by “how very well behaved” the House members were and said they spoke on behalf of farmers and people in need “in a very meaningful way.”
“Well behaved?” “Meaningful?” Did the House members know the correct fork to use for the particular course? Or did they just refrain from defecating on the carpet? It is nothing short of stunning to see a senator refer to his peers in the House in such demeaning terms. And when a trough-feeder like Cochran approves of their behavior absolutely nothing good for the American taxpayer will come out of it.
The only bright light is that a coalition of House conservatives has sent a letter to their colleagues asking them to hold fast on the reforms the House has made:
The American people are tired of this type of out-of-control spending and irresponsible “sausage-making.” Our constituents deserve a Congress that thoughtfully and separately considers the legislation that it passes. It’s just common sense. And in a historic move this summer, the House of Representatives did just that. For the first time in nearly 40 years, the House voted on and passed separate and substantive reform bills governing farm and food stamp policy.
The House-passed Farm Bill, H.R. 2642 enacted major changes to the farm safety-net by eliminating direct payments, repealing or consolidating more than 100 programs administered by the USDA and saving taxpayers $12.8 billion over ten years, in addition to the $6 billion in sequestration cuts already made to Farm Bill programs. The separate House-passed food stamp reauthorization bill, H.R. 3102 also pursued dramatic reform, saving taxpayers nearly $40 billion over ten years. This was done by scaling back automatic qualifications for the food stamp program known as categorical eligibility, eliminating the ability for states to waive work requirements for able-bodied adults without children, by giving states the opportunity to establish similar successful TANF-style work provisions on parents with dependents, clarifying states’ ability to require drug-testing for applicants and preventing certain convicted felons from receiving benefits.
Transparency is the surest way to guarantee good public policy and that our constituents’ voices are heard in the halls of Congress. Now that substantial reforms have been made, we request the Conference Committee adopt the separate reauthorization timelines, three years for food stamps and five years for farm policy, in order to ensure that these policies are debated and voted on apart from each other in the future. It’s time to do this right.
If the House reforms do not prevail, the House should scuttle whatever comes out of the conference and start again. And maybe repeal a law dating from the Truman administration in the process.