By this time, if you follow politics at all, chances are you’ve heard a lot about the farm bill. Passed Tuesday, this bill represents nearly $1 trillion in new spending, with typical promises for paltry reform over the next decade.
At risk of presumption, the problems with the farm portion are rather obvious. It’s no surprise that 85% of economists from across the ideological spectrum oppose farm subsidies. It seems commonly accepted that the “farm bill” long ago ceased to be a temporary relief for struggling family farmers and has instead become a hefty bonus check for some of the biggest corporate agriculture. For example, the richest farmers get the most subsidies, and just three firms received the most in sugar subsidies last year. And Tuesday’s bill did little to address these issues.
A program so misguided is easy to attack. But unfortunately, the farm portion is a very small part of the “farm” bill. And the other part backs people who want to save the next generation from massive debt into quite a tough corner.
“[T]he House and the Senate control the purse strings. It’s the only check that we have besides some oversight on the Executive Branch. And so I’m going to be part of that group that goes into this August recess and goes back home and says, ‘I will not vote for a continuing resolution that funds ObamaCare.’” - Rep. Thomas Massie
The last couple of election cycles have led to several interesting, liberty-minded Republicans being sent to Congress. On Tuesday, United Liberty had a chance to chat with one of those Republicans, Rep. Thomas Massie, who represents Kentucky’s Fourth Congressional District.
Elected last year with strong supports from grassroots groups, Massie quickly established his libertarian tendencies by taking strong stands for civil liberties and economic freedom. He’s an approachable guy and very down to Earth.
Along with Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), Massie fought hard to get a vote last week on an amendment to the defense appropriations bill to defund the National Security Agency’s broad surveillance of American citizens.
Massie offered an inside baseball account of how a vote on the amendment, which was offered by Amash, came to pass in the face of fierce opposition from President Barack Obama, congressional leaders from both parties and the nation’s security apparatus.
After a embarrassing defeat last month and despite a veto threat from the White House, House Republican leaders were able to save some face yesterday by passing the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act (FARRM Act), otherwise known as the “Farm Bill.”
The vote was close, 216 to 208, with every Democrat voting against the measure because food stamp funding was separated from the bill for the first time in several decades. Twelve Republicans voted against the measure because they say it spends too much and didn’t offer any real reform.
While separating food stamps from the Farm Bill — which accounted for nearly 79% of the $940 billion measure that the House voted down last month — does substantially bring down, the $202 billion proposal passed yesterday by the Republican-controlled House, according to The Hill, cuts less in subsidies than the bill passed by the Senate.
As much as I never like to question anyone’s intentions, I finally find myself asking this week, do House Republicans really want to reform Washington?
Perhaps it was naïve, but after the defeat of the Farm Bill, I thought hope was in the air for agriculture policy reform. Numerous Republicans had offered strong amendments, many of which were rejected at the onset by the Rules Committee. And a fair number of the remaining amendments were defeated on the floor at the urging of leadership. This egregious flouting of their party’s desire to curb spending pushed members over the edge. Sixty-two fiscally conservative Republicans revolted against the bill, proving to leadership once and for all that, indeed, they are here to actually make changes.
This failure appeared to make leadership desperate, forcing them to take the drastic step they’d previously vowed to avoid – splitting the bill into two portions, one for food assistance and one for agriculture programs. Reform advocates long have tossed around splitting the bill. Their logic is simple: neither portion of the bill is strong enough to stand alone. Nutrition program supporters and farm program enthusiasts need each other to get the bill across the finish line. So for those who find the programs to be bloated, forcing each portion through on its own merit seemed more likely to yield change than the current back-scratching arrangement.
With pressure in the Senate to pass the Farm Bill this week (they approved cloture this morning) and showmanship killing any consideration of further amendments, things aren’t looking good for reformers. This leaves taxpayers on the hook for an expanded crop insurance program with incredibly few taxpayer protections built in.
The Senate lauds this as progress, claiming $24 billion in savings over ten years. But a simple breakdown makes it clear that these supposed savings will never be realized. Luckily, the American Enterprise Institute has a great infographic presenting the numbers as they are likely to look over the next ten years. Instead of finding $24.4 billion in savings, the AEI graphic shows $31.2 billion of increased spending, which they rightly term a “bait-and-switch” for the taxpayer.
So where do these costs come from? The answer is the Agriculture Risk Coverage provision, a proposed “shallow loss” program that would make up the difference for revenue not covered by crop insurance. The program works with crop insurance to guarantee revenues, basically ensuring farmers 89 percent of their average revenue over the last five years. So if prices fall or your yield decreases, ARC will smooth over the difference.
Over the last six years, I’ve been watching Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) very closely. Back in 2008, Chambliss faced a tough challenge in a three-way, finding himself in a runoff against Jim Martin, a liberal Democrat.
Part of the problem was campaign organization. Insider Advantage quoted an unidentified Republican who said that Chambliss and company had the organization of a “bad state House race,” calling it a “embarrassing campaign.” There was also the perception of Chambliss among Georgia Republicans. Insider Advantage again quoted a unidentified Republican who said, “Saxby’s reputation is that he’s spent six years in Washington playing golf. He’s gone on lots of trips. He hasn’t done the down-and-dirty constituent work.”
“Saxby bragged about it his first four years – how much golf he was getting in. It was a real problem and it irked a lot of people,” said the unnamed Republican source. Many Republicans in the state were less than thrilled with Chambliss, who hadn’t been able to endear himself to the state party the way Sen. Johnny Isakson had.
Another issue that hurt Chambliss was that he had lost the support of many fiscal conservatives in Georgia because of his votes that put taxpayers at risk.
Amid reports of anemic economic growth and weak jobs numbers, Americans are being told that the economy is in recovery after a severe recession. It’s the same line Americans have heard for the past few years, only many aren’t experiencing it.
Caitlin Burke of the Heritage Foundation brings us a sobering reminder of that, noting that a record number of American households are on food stamps:
Recent data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicates that more than 23 million households—a record 20 percent—are now on food stamps. This is a dramatic increase from15 million households in 2009.
But the problem, however, isn’t limited to still slow economy, though that’s still a prominent concern. The food stamp program is in dire need of reform, including means-testing and work requirements:
This policy—which was put into place in fiscal year 2000 and heavily pushed by the Obama Administration—allows states to completely bypass the asset test for food stamp applicants, meaning there is no limit to the amount of assets a household can have to qualify for food stamps as long as their income is low enough.
President Barack Obama has frequently complained that the United States is in an “age of austerity,” decrying modest cuts to the rate of spending increases he once supported. This, despite the fact that taxpayers have seen the national debt grow by nearly $6.8 trillion since the beginning of his presidency.
The idea that we’re living in some “age of austerity” is just mindboggling, as A. Barton Hinkle sarcastically explained in his latest column:
The end of austerity cannot come soon enough, as far as your humble correspondent is concerned. And a quick look at the historical budget tables shows why: In 2008, the federal government spent just a hair under $3 trillion. After six years of President Slash-and-Burn, spending has shrunk to almost $4 trillion. If we keep cutting like this, it will be down to $5 trillion before you know it.
These savage reductions have taken place in nearly every major federal program. Take defense spending: The year before Obama took office, it stood at $594 billion. It’s now $597 billion. Back in 2001 it was almost $300 billion. Even if you adjust for inflation, it’s clear that defense spending has shrunk at an alarming rate.
Same deal for food stamps: Under President Barack Obama, spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program has gone from $40 billion to $78 billion, in constant dollars. And that’s after it went from $20 billion to $40 billion under Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush. Spending cuts like that are simply barbaric.
The Club for Growth released its annual congressional scorecards yesterday, offering concerned constituents a snapshot of how their representatives in Washington voted on issues related to limited government and economic growth legislation during the first session of the 113th Congress.
“2013 saw the emergence of several new defenders of economic freedom as well as continued excellence among old allies,” said Club for Growth President Chris Chocola, himself a former member of Congress. “Some members have seen their voting records improve and will be honored this year with recognition of their efforts for the first time.”
“While there are more champions of pro-economic growth policy serving in Congress than at any time before, it’s clear that our fight against the big spenders in both parties has a long way to go,” he added.
Like many organizations, the Club for Growth states positions on legislation or other matters as a way to encourage House and Senate members to encourage them to vote in a manner consistent with limited government, pro-growth views. The votes scored in the 2013 include the efforts to repeal or defund Obamacare, the Ryan-Murray budget deal, the farm bill, and the Full Faith and Credit Act.
The scorecards offer a look at who is living up to the limited government rhetoric on which they run each year as well as those are voting to put more debt on the back of the taxpayer as well as future taxpayers.
Today in Liberty: Judge strikes down Virginia’s gay marriage ban, House Dems want vote on minimum wage
“Americans have the right and advantage of being armed – unlike the citizens of other countries whose governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.” — James Madison
— Bonus daily quote: “I’m calling this storm Snowbama because it frees people from having to work.” — David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute
— Federal court strikes down Virginia’s gay marriage ban: U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen struck down Virginia’s constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in an opinion issued very late last night. Gay and lesbian individuals share the same capacity as heterosexual individuals to form, preserve and celebrate loving, intimate and lasting relationships,” Wright Allen wrote in the 41-page opinion. “Such relationships are created through the exercise of sacred, personal choices — choices, like the choices made by every other citizen, that must be free from unwarranted government interference.” The judge cited the Supreme Court’s decision in Loving v. Virginia, which struck down the Commonwealth’s ban on interracial marriage and determined that marriage is a fundamental right. Wright Allen stayed her decision, pending appeal in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.