Take Farm Bill Praise With a Grain of Salt
When you read an article that tells you the “farm” bill contains savings, you should take the claim with a grain of salt. Everything is better with a little salt, right? In this case you might just throw in the whole salt shaker, though, because there is a great deal of misinformation circulated by proponents.
The general picture here is “farm” bill spending is increasing drastically. Proponents of the “farm” bill like to cite the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate that the Senate’s “farm” bill will produce $17.4 billion in budget savings over 10 years (sub. req’d). They fail to consider that at $955 billion over ten years, the 2013 Senate bill would be a 58 percent increase to the last “farm” bill enacted in 2008 with the initial cost of $604 billion.
Food stamp bill proponents are willfully blind to the need for food stamp reform, too. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said:
“We shouldn’t be cutting federal nutrition programs. [The Senate] bill cuts $4 billion from SNAP and that’s already $4 billion too much. … The House’s $20 billion in SNAP cuts won’t pass muster in the Senate and certainly won’t get my support.”
Actually, food stamps should be reformed along the lines of other modern welfare programs. Efforts to reduce food stamp fraud, reduce the number of food stamp recipients who have simply become dependent on the program, prevent individuals from bypassing income and asset tests, and require drug testing in no way undermine efforts to assist those truly in need.
It is unfortunate that Sen. Brown and others like him conflate good, necessary reforms with pulling the rug out from under those truly in need. To be clear, they’re not the same. The former can occur without the latter.
One report explains:
The House legislation would achieve the cuts partly by eliminating what is called categorical eligibility, or giving people automatic food stamp benefits when they sign up for certain other programs. It also would save dollars by targeting states that give people who don’t have heating bills very small amounts of heating assistance so they can automatically qualify for higher food stamp benefits.
The Senate bill, also approved in committee last week, saves money in the food stamp program only by targeting the heating assistance dollars.
To be absolutely clear though, neither the House bill nor the Senate bill does enough to reform food stamps.
Reforming farm policy is also really important. (Who would have thought that would be part of the farm bill discussion?!) Though farm spending comprises a mere 20 percent of the spending in the bill, farm policies are not off the hook.
There may be slightly less opposition to farm program reform – even the White House has apparently called for deeper cuts to subsidies. Of course, they made no mention of food stamps.
But on the farm policy front, lawmakers in Congress have also failed to implement real reform, which would entail beginning the process of completely eliminating subsidy programs. Again, this bill does the opposite by expanding subsidy programs:
The bill would cut about $2.4 billion annually from overall farm spending. But it would still expand federally subsidized crop insurance and raise some subsidies for rice and peanut farmers.
These programs actually hurt farmers by preventing them from utilizing their land as they see fit. Crop insurance costs are skyrocketing, a bill footed by taxpayers, and there is no limit on the amount of premium subsidies farmers can receive. The biggest beneficiaries of these subsidies also happen to be the biggest farms. All of this is despite the fact that farmers already have a variety of private-sector options to mitigate their risks.
Consumers are also the farm bill’s losers. We pay higher prices for sugar, milk, butter, cheese – many of our culinary favorites and necessities – thanks to government “protections” of the sugar industry and government-imposed artificial limits on dairy production.
This bill is a fiscal disaster waiting to happen and it cannot go forward in its current form.