House passes nearly $1 trillion farm bill filled with special interest giveaways

After a months long impasse, the House of Representatives yesterday passed a nearly $1 trillion farm bill that does absolutely nothing to reform federal agriculture programs, nor eliminate protectionist subsidies for special interests:

The House on Wednesday approved a mammoth $956 billion farm bill in a bipartisan vote.

Members approved the House-Senate agreement on farm policy in a 251-166 vote. A majority of Republicans backed the bill, with only 63 voting “no.” But a majority of Democrats opposed it, with 103 voting against.

Democrats opposed to the bill complained about cuts to federal food stamps, while Republicans focused their ire on the bill’s cost and the way GOP leaders rushed it through the chamber.

The conference report to the bill, H.R. 2642, was agreed to earlier this week, and seems likely to end what has been a three-year effort to reauthorize and alter federal farm and food stamp programs.
Still, the compromise doesn’t offer the breadth of reform that many were seeking, and in some ways seemed more designed to get the process out of the way for the 2014 election.

Many of the 63 Republicans who voted against the farm bill also opposed previous attempts to pass it. In June, the House actually rejected the farm bill, with many Republicans objecting to limits on what amendments could be offered to the measure.

There were also objections to the cost of the bill as well as the sense that agriculture policy and food stamps should be handled separately. Food stamps (known as SNAP) accounted for nearly 79% of the total cost of the original $940 billion farm bill.

That episode was embarrassing for GOP leaders and highlighted the rift between fiscal conservatives in the conference — one of whom lost his leadership post because of the vote — and business-as-usual, big spending Republican members.

House leaders tried again in July, this time bringing a “farm only” bill to the floor, meaning that food stamps separated from the measure. That version of the bill passed, despite no fundamental reforms to federal agriculture programs. The Senate, however, refused to bring it up for a vote.

Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has hailed passage of the most recent version of the farm bill. “All Americans stand to benefit in some way from this farm bill, which maintains critical assistance for families in need and improves programs for producers while cutting the cost of government,” he said in a release. “More reform is needed, but this is an improvement over current law, and there are no earmarks.”

First, this version of the farm bill doesn’t offer anything resembling substantive reform. It continues the fusion of ag policy and welfare, making attempts to address waste in the farm bill a political football. Secondly, it continues market distorting subsidies, price supports and other protectionist policies — costs that Americans pay through higher grocery bills. Thirdly, it continues the practice of subsidizing millionaires.

Lastly, regardless of what Boehner says, this bill doesn’t cut spending. To say otherwise is simple not true. Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute notes that farm bill spending is up 49% since 2008:

If you are a reporter, please don’t write that the farm bill “slashes” anything. Even according to the official score, it just trims $16.5 billion from expected spending of $956 billion over the decade, which is just 1.7 percent. The food stamp (“nutrition”) portion of the bill trims just $8 billion from expected spending of $756 billion, which is just 1.1 percent.

However, the 2014 farm bill is not a cut at all when compared to the 2008 farm bill, which was projected to cost $640 billion over 10 years. That is a 49 percent spending increase.

Sure, the new bill shuffles the farm subsidy deck chairs, but the bill’s main budget attribute is that it ratifies the huge recent increase in food stamp spending. The House bill had proposed trimming a modest $39 billion (5 percent) from food stamps, but Republican leaders caved in and agreed to just a token 1 percent trim in the final bill.

This is the kind of stuff that irks fiscal conservatives. Instead of fundamentally addressing and reforming antiquated farm policies, Republicans have, yet again, preserved the status quo and adding another $1 trillion to the national debt. Bang up job, guys.

The views and opinions expressed by individual authors are not necessarily those of other authors, advertisers, developers or editors at United Liberty.