A smarter sequester: Save tax dollars by ending direct payment subsidies

This week, Congress has a choice: allow damaging across-the-board budget cuts or work together in a bipartisan way to achieve a balanced compromise that makes smarter, targeted spending cuts.

As the hours tick toward the March 1 deadline for the automatic sequester cuts, partisan political games are still drowning out common-sense, compromise solutions. Meanwhile, federal agencies are bracing for indiscriminate furloughs and program cuts that would deal a serious blow to our fragile economic recovery.

Cutting spending with a meat cleaver in this economy just doesn’t make sense. That’s why I’m calling on my colleagues to cut the deficit in ways that do make sense, with ideas that have bipartisan support and can actually pass.

One of the first things we should look to cut is the billions of dollars in taxpayer handouts in the direct payment agriculture subsidy program.

Direct payments are subsidies paid every year to farmers, regardless of farming conditions, including in good times of high commodity prices. In many cases, they’re paid to farmers for crops they’re not even growing. Sometimes they’re even paid to non-farmers.

The Missouri farmers I’ve talk to don’t want or need this handout — these subsidies just can’t be justified. They’re a striking example of government waste that we cannot afford in fiscally constrained times. Our farmers need a farm bill that protects them when disaster strikes, like the devastating drought we experienced just last summer. That’s why I introduced bipartisan legislation last week, along with Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, that would finally end the direct payment program, saving taxpayer dollars and reducing the deficit.

We’ve already seen strong bipartisan support for eliminating direct payments for years, and last year, the Senate voted overwhelmingly with support from both parties for a farm bill renewal that would have eliminated these subsidies.

Virtually every major agriculture industry leader, and farmers and ranchers across our country, supported the Senate farm bill. Unfortunately, the U.S. House refused to act, letting this critical legislation die, and so direct payment subsidies live on.

As we look for ways to cut spending, with real-life consequences just days away, there’s no reason we can’t take this commonsense step and eliminate $28.5 billion in waste.

It makes absolutely no sense to kick hundreds of thousands of children off of Head Start, or lay off teachers, so that we can continue spending billions on a direct payment program that even agriculture industry leaders refuse to defend.

Congress has a few days left to decide: protect our economy, keep Americans from losing their jobs and reduce the deficit — or continue a farm subsidy program both parties agree should end.
McCaskill is a member of the Senate Armed Services, Commerce, Homeland Security and Aging committees.