You’re watching a cable news show one night and see some of the GOP freshmen House members, part of the 2010 “shellacking” President Obama experienced, telling the audience that the nation needs smaller government, free markets, less spending, and greater transparency. The next thing you know the same Republicans are sponsoring and signing onto the new Farm Bill. There’s something wrong with this picture.
The agricultural bills of both chambers of Congress are meant to do two things that fly against conservative principles. First, about 80% of the Farm Bill is about funding the food stamp program over the next ten years. Needless to say, the cost to taxpayers for the food stamp program has doubled during the Obama presidency, and is now up to $78 billion annually.
When the Senate was debating its version of the bill, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina) observed that, compared to 2008 levels, the new farm bill will increase spending by 60%. The hike is due to the fact that the new bill incorporates the Obama administration’s baseline spending into entitlement spending forever.
Second, the rest of the Farm Bill incorporates crop insurance and price support programs that artificially distort the market, favor larger farms, and incentivize farmers to take extraordinary risks. This is hardly the “free market” environment that many Republicans have told us they want to encourage. In addition, the Heritage Foundation tells us that the current House and Senate farm bills would expand crop insurance to farm subsidy recipients, whose names remain secret, while eliminating transparent farm payments. This means that taxpayers would not be able to learn names of recipients and amounts in crop insurance subsidies. Without this transparency, taxpayers cannot hold elected officials accountable for their actions.
The House’s version of the Farm Bill, H.R. 6083, authorizes $957 billion in spending over the next ten years. Like the Senate version, the House bill continues a program that protects sugar producers from foreign competition and creates a new subsidized insurance program for cotton. If this bill passes in the GOP-controlled House, Republicans will, once again, have broken their promises to promote limited government, transparency, free market principles, and balanced budgeting. They will have caved, once again, to special interests and to the culture of corporate welfare.
For example, Congresswoman Kristi Noem (R-South Dakota), one of the 2010 class of Republicans, and a farmer and rancher herself, is heading the “bipartisan” group, along with Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vermont), that is hoping to urge House leaders to bring the Farm Bill to a vote before August, as the old Farm Bill expires at the end of September. The group’s letter to Speaker Boehner and the Republican leaders states that the new Farm Bill is needed immediately so that they can “tell the American success story of agriculture and work to ensure we have strong policies in place...”
It sounds like the letter sent by Reps. Noem and Welch is saying that big farmers and ranchers should have certainties that the rest of the private sector does not have. Should the government provide insurance for all entrepreneurs and businesses so that risk is not a factor in their enterprises?
The fact that Noem has joined in with Democrats who have resisted significant cuts in food stamp spending in order to push through the new non-transparent crop insurance and price support programs leaves us with one big piece of legislation that caters to special interests. The fact that many of the primary agricultural states are Republican states, led by Republican governors, leaves support of the Farm Bill by Republicans pretty high up on the hypocrisy scale.
A more constructive task for Rep. Noem, and other House Republicans, would be to work out a way to disentangle the food stamp program from the agricultural policies, and then begin to promote free market principles in agriculture. Limited government intervention and the free market are what Republicans are saying they believe in; it’s time to start putting the plan into action, even if it means being unpopular in some spheres.
Republicans have to stick to their principles, and we, the people, have to do our part. A list of the House members supporting the Farm Bill is here. Please contact your representative and tell him or her not to bring the Farm Bill to the floor of the House during this Congress.