Last week, while everyone was enraptured by the trio of Obama administration scandals, Congress was hard at work fleecing American taxpayers.
This time, they’re doing it with a multi-billion dollar bill to subsidize farmers. The bill is a maze of agribusiness subsidies, welfare payments and “green” crony capitalism spending. Programs in the farm bill include: income support for farmers, price controls on select crops, government guaranteed loans and special subsidized crop insurance for farmers.
The problem is not agriculture per se. It’s that once the money flows, it becomes impossible to turn off the gushing payment spigot to demanding recipients.
You see, the current farm payment programs all got started in the 1930′s. During the Great Depression, times were tough… but today’s farming is a whole other thing, mostly controlled by large, successful agribusiness. Present-day farms are bringing in record-high incomes. Technology has done away with numerous risks that used to bedevil agriculture.
Nowadays, the never-ending giveaway of billions of dollars to agribusiness is a needless expense that inevitably falls to taxpayers.
Big Agriculture is a Big Business
When you listen to congressmen talk about the farm bill, you might think the bill helps small, family farms. But in actuality, the victors are giant agribusiness.
About 75% of big farms collect subsidies compared to only 24% of the smaller, family farms. According to the government’s own data, farms with gross sales of $1 million or more received 23% of all commodity-related cash, significantly more than the 15% share received by smaller farms in the $100,000 to $249,999 sales range.
Subsidy payments given to large enterprises make it very difficult for small farms to compete and stay in business. The stream of tax dollars into big farms increases demand for farmland, which raises the price of property above the reach of smaller players. If the government wanted to enact effective change, Congress should cut payments to farms raking in over $250,000 per year.
And Now For Some Corruption
If saddling taxpayers with unwanted bills isn’t bad enough, there’s this: Members of Congress and their families are eligible for these farm subsidies.
You see, many of the members assigned to the House and Senate Agriculture Committees are farmers themselves, and the public can’t see how much these same members and their families profit from crop insurance payments.
In essence, they get to reach into the farm bill honeypot and grab however much money they want.
And as for corruption, that’s only the start. The farm bill wouldn’t pass with the support of farmers alone. It needs the support of big city politicians, too, which is why Congress tied the Food Stamp program to the farm bill. Urban members of Congress exchange their support of the bill for millions in welfare benefits for their constituents.
And of course the idea of decoupling welfare from the farm bill faces stiff resistance. It makes good politics to mix the two. As Sen. Thad Cochran of the Senate Agriculture Committee candidly admitted to the North American Agricultural Journalists meeting that food stamps must be included in the farm bill “purely from a political perspective. It helps get the farm bill passed.”
I say America would be better off if we just cashiered the whole bill, but Capitol Hill doesn’t listen to common sense. Congressmen only listen to the special interests that pour money into their re-election campaigns.
“This article originally appeared at CapitolHillDaily.com and is reprinted here with permission.
Photo credit: iluvcocacola (Creative Commons)