Farm Bill: After Three Failed Decades of No Reform, Isn’t it Time to Try A Different Approach?

Farm Bill: After Three Failed Decades of No Reform, Isn’t it Time to Try A Different Approach?
June 20, 2013

Seton Motley

Seton Motley is the president of Less Government, a DC-based non-profit organization dedicated to... (read full bio)

Unwinding the government’s crop protectionism regime has been a 30+ year-long nightmare mess.  We who wish to make it all go away have in that time gotten absolutely nowhere in our attempts to do so.

A political numbers-reality has existed throughout that has made progress impossible.

Nearly every Democrat will always be for just about any government program – of course including crop subsidies.  On principle.  It’s government – and they always want it to do more.

Then there are rural Republicans.  Whose states (Senate) and many districts (House) contain crop subsidies recipients.  So as conservative as they may be on most other things – and many of them are – they always have and likely always will be terrible on this.

This Democrat-Rural Republican block has remained immovable and unbeatable on crop subsidies.  The latest in a long, unbroken line of evidence?

The Senate has been since (at least) 2011 bitterly divided on nearly everything.  Democrats and Republicans can’t agree…basically at all.  But they just passed the fatty, flabby five-year, $1 trillion Farm Bill with a lopsided 66-27 vote.

Seeing as how every state has crop subsidy recipients, we were lucky to get that many Nays.

Meanwhile:

The House is working on a rival, $940 billion farm bill that cuts spending by $39.7 billion over 10 years, with $20.5 billion of the cuts coming from food stamps.

Get that?  The radical, government-slashing Tea Party House is…also working on a nearly $1 trillion Farm Bill.  With not even $8 billion per year in cuts.

Food Stamps are the lions’ share of the Farm Bill money being spent.  Two-thirds of the 2008 Farm Bill was Food Stamp coin.  Which begs a question – why is this gi-normous welfare program a part of the Farm Bill?

Food Stamps Are Key Component to Getting Farm Bill Passed

“[Food stamps] should continue to be included purely from a political perspective. It helps get the farm bill passed,” (Mississippi Republican Senator Thad) Cochran said.

He went on to defend federal nutrition programs, including food stamps and subsidized school meals. “I come from a state where we have higher-percentage participation [than the national average]. It is part of my representation of the state that I make sure that those interests get represented,” Cochran said.

“I have never had to apologize in Mississippi for supporting it,” he said, referring to food stamps.

No one ever has to apologize to government-money recipients for defending their continued government-money reception.  Which fundamentally encapsulates our $4-trillion-per-year federal budget problem.

And, again, this is a Republican saying this.  A Southern one.

So why not decouple Food Stamps and the Farm Bill?  It’s not just me asking the question.

Some House Republicans, often from the rural Midwest, began proposing putting food stamps—which make up more than 70 percent of the Agriculture Department budget—into a separate bill.

Aha.  We’ve already started to break up the rural Republican pro-Farm Bill block.  And this would likely shake loose many of the urban and suburban Representatives as well.

These members seem to have forgotten that Congress created food stamps as part of the farm bill in the 1960s, when the declining rural population translated into fewer rural representatives in the House and fewer votes for the farm bill, and that the number of rural representatives continues to decline.

So why this imperative for a Farm Bill for its own sake?  If you had to fifty years ago prop it up with an additional, huge welfare program to keep it going – perhaps it wasn’t and isn’t a good idea.

Besides, farming and agriculture have been around for tens of thousands of years.  For the vast majority of that time, we grew stuff just fine without a Farm Bill (let alone an entire Cabinet-level Department).

Over the decades, cottage lobbies have arisen around each crop to ensure the government gravy trains keep a-rolling.  And they’ve been inordinately successful – thanks in large part to the Thad Cochran-demonstrated principle of Concentrated Benefit-Dissipated Harm.

Which states that the small(er) contingent that receives government money will yell a whole lot louder to keep the coin coming than the vast masses who pay for it will to stop it.

Very few of these crop lobbies have ever offered anything other than adamant insistence on ever-increasing government assistance.

Except – the Sugar lobby is right now actually proposing something new: Zero-for-Zero.  Which calls for global trade negotiations – to begin to bring down other nations’ sugar regimes in exchange for us ending ours.

Which we have previously discussed:

Reality and Free Markets vs Brazilian Big Government

Everyone’s Sugar Subsidies Need to Go

And Red State – this august publication – and it’s Impresario Erick Erickson hosted last week a panel discussion on the global sugar market and 0-for-0.

It’s something new – and definitely worth a shot.  We have fought the Farm Bill subsidy lobbies for decades – and lost.  Over, and over, and over again.

So if we can’t beat them, why not join them – when they are actually pushing for a truly freer global market?

[First Published on RedState]

Seton Motley

Seton Motley is the president of Less Government, a DC-based non-profit organization dedicated to... (read full bio)