Taxpayers and consumers alike should cheer defeat of the farm bill

Taxpayers and consumers alike should cheer defeat of the farm bill
© Getty Images

So far, the story of the 2018 farm bill is one of missed opportunities.

Lawmakers brought to the floor yet another bloated farm bill that is filled with the same corporate welfare programs and special interest handouts that have burdened American taxpayers for years. But this time, just when it seemed as though history was doomed to repeat itself, something different happened. The bill failed on the House floor, and taxpayers should be cheering.

ADVERTISEMENT

But they shouldn’t cheer the failure just because the bill is expensive. It is also important to remember that much of it is just bad policy. Consider some of the odd things the farm bill does: It pays farmers not to farm, it incentivizes the consolidation of family farms, it even raises the cost of food. Ultimately it distorts the agriculture market through a series of expensive, contradictory programs.

 

So why do lawmakers continue to support a bill with such a bad track record? Two words: corporate welfare — a problem with unfortunate bipartisan appeal.

For decades, the farm bill has consistently stood out as one of Washington’s worst offenders when it comes to corporate welfare — a problem that few in Congress are willing to admit. Supporters of the bill claim that these programs are designed to help small farmers who struggle in a difficult market. But, in reality, most of the benefits go to large farm businesses with high revenues and net worth, and strong connections in Washington.

What’s more, benefits don’t just go to farmers. Family members including cousins, nieces and nephews can receive subsidies as high as $125,000 year, whether or not they live or work on the farm. 

According to the Congressional Research Service, “farms with market revenue equal to or greater than $250,000 accounted for 12 percent of farm households, but received 60 percent of federal farm program payments.” These subsidies also inflate the cost of farmland substantially. This can make starting a farm as a young person prohibitively expensive, which has serious implications for the future of the agriculture industry. These same policies lead to worse environmental results as subsidies take on inflated importance over stewardship for planting decisions.

Unfortunately, this year’s bill is just more of the same. The signal to special interests was business as usual. The signal to taxpayers and consumers was that Washington isn’t interested in fiscal responsibility. And without real reforms to the farm side of the bill, these signals are also bad for most farmers.

Keep in mind, a number of amendments that would have vastly improved the bill were offered before the vote. Every single one was either blocked or voted down — leaving the final bill with little in the way of substantive reforms.

Take the one offered by Rep. Virginia FoxxVirginia Ann FoxxTrump calls North Carolina redistricting ruling ‘unfair’ Women poised to take charge in Dem majority House passes bill putting restrictions on unfunded mandates MORE of North Carolina to overhaul the sugar program. Current farm policy both restricts sugar production here in the U.S. and limits imports from other countries. This props up the domestic sugar industry, and makes sugar more expensive for U.S. consumers—as much as $4 billion each year.   

Rep. Foxx correctly called the sugar program a classic case of “crony capitalism” and “special-interest bailouts.” Lawmakers weren’t listening, and her amendment was crushed, 137-278.

It was encouraging to see champions like Rep. Foxx stand up for meaningful reforms to farm programs, but it is clear that more work is to be done to get important changes across the finish line. 

One of the few bright spots in this otherwise disappointing bill were reforms to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Mandatory spending is the main driver of runaway federal spending, so reining it in by enacting common-sense reforms to programs like SNAP is essential if we’re going to have any chance to enact much-needed, more extensive reforms in the future.

Unfortunately, the House bill managed to fail even where it succeeded. The bill wasted the benefits gained from the SNAP reforms by reallocating the savings to a host of other programs that have proven ineffective in the past.

House leaders say they will try again in a few weeks. But we now have a renewed opportunity to change the tide in Washington. Rather than continue beating this dead horse, lawmakers should pass a clean, one-year extension of existing law, then use that time to work on real reforms that American taxpayers and consumers deserve.

These reforms should focus on prioritizing taxpayer over special interests, reducing out-of-control spending, and eliminating market-distorting policies that end up hurting farmers and consumers. We’ll work with any member of either party who will champion such reforms.

Alison Acosta Winters is a senior policy fellow at Americans for Prosperity, a nonprofit group that advocates for limited government. Mary Kate Hopkins is a policy manager at AFP.