lame duck

Lame Duck Threat: The Farm Bill

Lame Duck Threat: About this series

With the election behind us, Congress will convene a lame-duck session.  This series will highlight major issues facing Congress that may be decided by defeated and retiring lawmakers. 

Issue Description:  There are two major problems with the farm bill.  First, as Heritage’s Diane Katz explains, the farm bill, which began in 1935, is a “Depression-Era” subsidy for “today’s millionaires.”  Farms have gotten bigger and technology has vastly improved, making farms more economically stable and nullifying the need for massive government subsidies — this goes for all farms, but subsidizing large, stable farms is especially egregious.  Second, the farm bill is just not a farm bill any more.  In fact, 80 percent (or $768.2 billion) of the spending in the bill is goes toward food stamps and other nutrition programs.

Why Lame Duck: Prior to the election, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) indicated the farm bill may come up during a lame duck.  Action on the farm bill in the lame duck is ill advised, especially since the bill needs major reforms that cannot be accomplished in lame duck.  Advocates of the massive farm and food stamp bill have agitated for Congressional action, claiming that the consequences of failing to act will be dire, but those claims are way overblown and simply untrue.

Conservative Position: A conservative approach to the farm bill will include: ending subsidies to farmers who should operate and prepare on their own just like any other business person in America; ending government-imposed mandates and quotas on the agricultural sector; and, by separating food stamp and farm policy.

  • Heritage’s Diane Katz explains, “Agriculture entails multiple risks—as does any entrepreneurial venture.” As such, farmers should be required to prepare on their own, which would have the effect of forcing them to make more responsible decisions. They should not receive direct payments which are “unjustified” and “unaffordable, given a budget deficit of $1.2 trillion.” Moreover, small farmers, who Congress claims to be helping, are actually harmed by this massive “subsidy regime.”  Katz explains, “Congress should begin the process of fully eliminating farm subsidies by restricting eligibility and imposing income limits and subsidy caps.” In light of farmers’ record profits this year, this advice is more than justified.
  • With regard to food stamps, it is absolutely essential that they should be reformed “along the lines of other modern welfare programs (such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families)… not continued as an ineffective farmers’ aid program.”  As long as food stamp policy is bundled in with farm policy, real reform will be inhibited.
  • Heritage Action CEO Mike Needham released a statement in which he explained, “With our nation’s debt approaching $16 trillion, we cannot afford another $1 trillion boondoggle.  Nor can we continue, in the [Speaker Boehner’s] words, ‘Soviet-style’ farm programs that create perverse, market-distorting incentives.”
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