Farm Bill Lacks A Dry Match

The U.S. Capitol Police might investigate me for saying this, but Guy Fawkes was onto something that fateful evening beneath the House of Lords in 1605. Last week’s passage of the Farm Bill is one of those moments when lawmakers should thank goodness that outraged citizens can’t find a dry match. If one piece of legislation can stand for all that is wrong in Washington, D.C., this is it.

There are so many fingerprints on this monstrosity, that there’s plenty of blame to go around. From Republican and Democratic leadership to corporate special interests to farm state lawmakers to lobbyists from one end of K Street to the other, we can now see the result when they band together to hold the federal budget hostage. Now, $1 trillion later, I can only conclude it would have been better for Congress to do nothing and keep the slightly-less-horrible 2008 bill that was law of the land until recently.

So what are takeaways for us trounced taxpayers?

First of all, this is what we get, America, when we have “true bipartisanship.”  The two parties herd new horrible, wasteful, cronyist bills through the legislative logroll. Congressional comity, in short, usually finds a way to make the situation worse. Instead, we should wish for gridlock. Private cooperation makes sense within families and between spouses, neighbors, friends, businesses, and consumers. But public “compromise” usually leads to some group or institution, public or private, taking something unearned from the labor and wealth of others.

Second, I thought we were broke. Heck, even President Obama’s latest budget request would cut $29 billion from agricultural and farm programs. Last time I checked, though, he is not a Chief Executive with a penchant for reducing spending. Instead, he seems to believe money magically appears in the underground tunnel between the White House and the Treasury Department. Meanwhile, Republican support for this porker of a farm bill further diminishes their already weakened moral authority to advocate for genuine regulatory and budget reform.

Third, the Farm Bill should serve as clear evidence of the uselessness of “grand bargains” and “balanced approaches”—usually code words for tax increases—to budget woes.  As the Mercatus Center’s Veronique De Rugy says, “Our politicians are like Lucy holding the football, as they promise spending cuts … and WHOOSH! Americans are like Charlie Brown and fall for it every time.”

Fourth, this is an example of classic legislative bait-and-switch. Much ado was made by the bill’s managers about the elimination of direct farm subsidies. That sounded deceptively good, especially given the fact that it was mostly wealthy farmers who benefited from those subsidies. But lawmakers then handed out new crop insurance guarantees for which the federal taxpayer bears the risk. And the total bill for crop insurance subsidies—at least $89 billion over 10 years—may even outweigh what taxpayers would have contributed in direct subsidies. And of course, there will be some expensive hidden gems yet to be discovered in this massive bill.

But perhaps the Farm Bill merits one small cheer, after all. If signed into law, it will permit a test program allowing 10 states to grow industrial hemp for research. Those 10 states currently have legalized cultivation but are unable to produce because of current federal drug laws, which themselves are an egregious example of misallocated efforts and wasted tax dollars. Unfortunately, for my friends at the Hemp House in Paia, Maui, this regulatory relief comes six months too late.  After decades of trying, they closed shop—yet another example of small business done in by onerous federal regulations. So yeah, the government’s going to allow some of the little people to grow a bit of industrial hemp, so there’s that. But still, that’s not good enough—not just for me, but also for the liberal Washington Posts of the world.

President Obama recently declared that 2014 would be a year of action. Well, if there’s on action he should take, it is to veto this bill and demand Congress strip it of cronyist giveaways.  While we wait, the rest of us will be reading up on Guy Fawkes.