“NO” on “Farm” Bill Conference Report

On Wednesday, the House will vote on the Agricultural Act of 2014 (H.R.2642), commonly referred to as the Farm Bill but more accurately described as the Food Stamp and Farm Bill.  Despite claims of reform, the bill continues to spend nearly $1 trillion on a variety of programs, including significant taxpayers subsidies to agribusiness, green energy handouts, conservation programs and of course the massive food stamp program.

Once again, about 80 percent of the bill’s spending goes towards the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly known as food stamps.   There are now nearly 48 million individuals on food stamps, compared with nearly 31 million in 2008 and 17 million in 2000.  Even after the dramatic loosening of eligibility standards contributed to one in seven Americans now collecting food stamps, the conference report contains minuscule reforms.  All told the proposal is expected to save just one percent. That is below the 5-percent cut passed by the House last September and well below the 17-percent reduction outlined in the House-passed budget.

The mere inclusion of food stamps in the so-called “farm bill” is purely political.   Bipartisan Policy Center’s Steve Bell explained “The great thing the ag coalition did was include inner-city and suburban food-stamp recipients in addition to the more conservative farmers.” Bell’s comments echo candid remarks made by Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS)Heritage ActionScorecardSen. Thad Cochran54%Senate Republican AverageSee Full Scorecard54%  last summer: “It helps get the farm bill passed.”  Conferees used the same tactic to with regard to excessive control of Western land, adding Payment In Lieu of Taxes, known as  PILT, to the final product.

By restoring the link between food stamps and agriculture policy, the conference committee reversed what Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN)Heritage ActionScorecardRep. Marlin Stutzman82%House Republican AverageSee Full Scorecard82% described as a “ victory for common sense that taxpayers won last year.”  “This logrolling,” he continued, “prevents the long-term reforms that both farm programs and food stamps deserve.”  Indeed, the conference report lacks serious reforms.  While it does close the “heat-and-eat” loophole, it does not contain a repeal of broad-based categorical eligibility and states are able to completely bypass asset tests for food stamp applicants.  Additionally, states will be able to continue receiving waivers to undo what minimal work requirements were in place.

America is more than $17 trillion in debt, yet the bill is estimated to cost $956 billion.   Proponents claim it will reduce the deficit, but it is actually a 57-percent increase in the baseline from the 2008 bill, which was projected to cost $604 billion.  Not surprisingly, the 2008 bill actually ended up costing much more. As Politico rightly noted earlier this week, “any cost estimate is suspect after the drop in corn prices over the summer. Cash sales were just $4.10 per bushel.”  Heritage previously warned “the bigger problem with the CBO estimate is that it presumes that commodity prices will stay at or near record highs.” Indeed, the latest CBO score reflects that trend.

Heritage also explains that while some bad subsidies and program were removed, lawmakers replaced them with even riskier taxpayer-funded programs.The inclusion of the Senate’s Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program is of deep concern.  An initial CBO score suggested the average cost of about $2.9 billion per year, but an analysis by the American Enterprise Institute found the program “could cost as much as $7 billion annually based on the 15-year historical average price.”  The inclusion of the House’s Price Loss Coverage (PLC) program is similarly problematic, setting the baseline for these commodity prices higher than what would be necessary to cover major losses. These baseline scoring gimmicks could wipe out all the “savings” that negotiators are touting in the conference report.

The bill contains many smaller provisions too.  For example, in a win for Senate negotiators, it will include $881 million in mandatory funding for the Agriculture Department renewable energy and biofuels programs.  According to E&E News, the bill would also, for the first time, “make renewable chemicals eligible for funding under biorefinery and biomass assistance programs and support crops grown purposefully for the bio-based products industry.”

Finally, farmers are currently carrying far less debt compared to their very strong assets. Net farm income is expected to reach “a remarkable $128.2 billion this year – the highest level since 1973,” making the aforementioned farm programs all but insanity.  The “farm” bill means more expenses for taxpayers and higher costs for consumers.  It means more unnecessary government dependence for wealthy farmers and food stamp recipients.

Heritage Action opposes the conference report on H.R. 2642 and will include it on our legislative scorecard.

Related:
Heritage Action Scorecard
Heritage: You Won’t Believe What’s in the $1 Trillion Farm Bill Disaster
Key Vote No on Food Stamp and Farm Bill (Senate)
Key Vote NO on Food Stamp and Farm Bill (House)

** This key vote has been updated to reflect new estimates released by the Congressional Budget Office.