More Farm Bill blues

The new Farm Bill is a done deal — with both the House and the Senate passing the conference report with huge numbers: 318-106 in the House and 81-15 in the Senate.

The Administration is still holding fast to its promise to veto the legislation, but with those numbers, it seems veto-proof, especially in an election year.

When the legislation was on the House floor and Rep. Jeff Flake was leading an early effort to try to put obstacles in the steamroller’s path, some of the procedural votes got respectable numbers. But, alas, the farm package showed how bi-partisanship often means bad legislation.

The nearly $300 billion (over five-years) Farm Bill simply paid off every special interest. Farmers got their direct payments, their counter-cyclical payments, their price support loan amounts, their disaster funds, etc. Some producers who weren’t subsidized before — the fruit, vegetable, and nut producers — got some gobs of R&D money that opens the door to future subsidies. The bill includes what was lauded as the “first-ever livestock title,” another group that wasn’t subsidized before.

Urban and suburban centers got their nutrition programs, their food stamps. Environmentalists got their conservation programs, though not as many as they wanted. Energy producers got some biofuel monies, and, they’ll get the USDA to buy up surplus sugar at 20 cents/lb. and sell it to ethanol producers at 10 cents/lb. Special earmarks got others on board — the ”trail to nowhere,” a taxpayer-funded land swap; forests that house fish got some money, as did salmon fisheries. And, one of my favorites, “socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers” got their pork.

Of course, the House Agriculture Committee touts the “reforms” in the bill — the income limits on those farmers who can receive subsidies. The per person annual limit is $500,000 for non-farm income and $750,000 per year for farm income. A married couple could then have farm income of $1.5 million per year and still collect taxpayer-funded payments.

In a time of record farm profits, budget deficits, and rising food prices, maybe some of our politicians will see the light and change their votes after the expected veto. I’m not counting on it, ‘though.