Remember the "Choose Your Own Adventure" interactive fiction stories from your childhood or your children's childhood? The books took place in a variety of settings, and, as the name suggests, there were a variety of possible endings to the stories.
Well, imagine a Choose Your Own Adventure Farm Bill Edition! There is a variety of possible outcomes that could result from a farm bill conference between the House and Senate, but there's a catch: all the outcomes of a conference will be bad, at least for some of the characters. The other catch is that this is real life, not fiction, so real people will be harmed.
Taxpayers and consumers will get the shaft, while wealthy farmers continue to feed at the farm bill trough.
Why is the picture necessarily so grim?
It's 2013, but the House and Senate may bring us on a farm bill adventure more fitting for 1933. The two chambers are expected to meet soon to meld together their two versions of the farm bill, which is comprised of myriad underlying bills, dealing with a range of policy areas in agriculture. But the problem is that neither of these pieces of legislation have been reformed and updated for 2013 agriculture.
Congress continues to treat agriculture as if it were 1933 instead of 2013. Agriculture is a cutting-edge sector of the economy that continues to innovate and produce more food with fewer resources.
Yet, every five years when the farm bill is up for renewal, many legislators, including those who claim to be pro-free market and limited government, push a farm bill that is a model of central planning.
In a table, Heritage outlines all of the policy areas covered by the farm bill in the first column, followed by columns for the House bill, the Senate bill, and finally for Heritage foundation recommendations. Both the House and Senate bills often take no action where action is required, while in other areas the actions taken are either insufficient or worse than current policy.
Let's just go through some of the policies included in the House and Senate bills, pick some of them, and see where our hypothetical adventure brings us!
Based on our selections, we've arrived at a piece of legislation that -- you guessed it -- hurts taxpayers and consumers.
Farm policy and food stamp policy has not been separated, which conservatives understand needs to happen before real reform can take place. And the much dreaded so-called "permanent law" is made more permanent, meaning Congress will be much less likely to review and reform agriculture programs as necessary in the future.
We're still footing the bill for the most costly program in the farm bill, crop insurance, and it's now actually been expanded. Taxpayers are subsidizing farmers yet again through the shallow loss program, which provides payments to farmers when they fall below 88 percent of their expected yields. As if shallow loss weren't enough, now we're stuck with the "reference price program," which is an unnecessary and costly subsidy, pegged to historically high crop prices.
As consumers we're paying more for dairy products because we're subsidizing a new dairy margin insurance program, and the legislation limits production through a method known as "supply management." The sugar program should be repealed too, but between the House and Senate bills, we had no choice but to keep it. Now we're paying two to three times more than world prices.
The process may be more complex than this, but the bottom line is if the House and Senate bills are combined in a conference committee, there is no palatable outcome for taxpayers and consumers. And the Choose Your Own Adventure books allow you to go back and choose different options as many times as you like... but this isn't a game or a story book, it's real life -- there are no do-overs!