Farm bill excesses

With U.S. farm production and farmers’ incomes soaring, why is a bloated farm bill likely to sweep through the House-Senate conference this spring? The Wall Street Journal in a front-page article gives some reasons:

The farm bill has its roots in the Great Depression, when about a quarter of the U.S. population lived on farms and endured extraordinary economic hardship. As first conceived in the 1930s, the bill was designed to be a temporary boost to farm income.

It has since evolved into a thicket of hard-to-cut programs, providing payments and special loans to farmers to counteract swings in commodity prices and ensure market stability, as well as income. Subsidies flow to growers of corn, wheat and cotton, among other commodities. The legislation has also become a vehicle for funding food stamps, land conservation and school lunches, to name a few things, attracting supporters whose constituents have little or nothing to do with farms.

Last year, advocates of farm bill reform worked long and hard, but the fact that the Farm Bill includes well-funded programs that urban politicians support — food stamps and nutrition programs — and large-scale conservation programs that environmental supporters pushed for meant reformers had few Congressional leaders for the fight.  In addition, farm groups that didn’t receive subsidies and used to push for agricultural reform were co-opted with research and development monies targeted to such groups as the fruit and vegetable producers.

President Bush has threatened to veto the bill, if caps on who can receive farm support aren’t in the legislation and if some of the funding sleight-of-hand isn’t corrected.  The conference may give in on a few of those points, but it’s almost inevitable that the final legislation will represent even more pork that taxpayers have to provide for farm producers.