Don't declare win as Farm Bill passes

Published on Friday, 7 February 2014 23:11 - Written by

The Farm Bill has passed, but it’s no victory for the Republicans. Cuts to food stamps are neither substantial nor sensible — cutting a program, without reforming it, is bad policy — and some important transparency rules were dropped from the final bill.

In Washington, it’s agri-business as usual.

The $956 billion Farm Bill (over 10 years) will be paid for with borrowed money, and it fails to significantly reduce federal spending.

“Even according to the official score, it just trims $16.5 billion from expected spending of $956 billion over the decade, which is just 1.7 percent,” the Cato Institute’s Chris Edwards explains. “The food stamp (‘nutrition’) portion of the bill trims just $8 billion from expected spending of $756 billion, which is just 1.1 percent. However, the 2014 farm bill is not a cut at all when compared to the 2008 farm bill, which was projected to cost $640 billion over 10 years. That is a 49 percent spending increase.”

CNN reports that farmers (mostly huge conglomerates who don’t need assistance) will continue to be a favored class in America. While direct subsidy payments have been cut, another kind of subsidy has been increased — a subsidy for crop insurance.

“This is complex, but in short, the government will make crop insurance cheaper and it will pay out some benefits at lower levels than previously. That will make farming less risky for some,” CNN explains. “But it transfers that risk to the federal government, which could be even more on tap if crop prices plummet or if a disaster hits. Good for farmers, risky for the deficit.”

More fundamentally, it protects a privileged portion of the U.S. from the usual ups and downs of markets.

Can you imagine the federal government telling another sector — say, coffee shop owners — that if prices drop to low, the government will come in and make up the difference to the owners’ bank accounts?

There was also an important transparency clause that was dropped by the Senate.

“Just like any farmer, members of Congress who own farmland can receive the crop insurance subsidies,” CNN explains. “This can significantly cut premiums and save a bundle of money. The Republican House of Representatives initially thought it was a good idea to know who in Congress would benefit from those subsidies and the original version of the bill included a requirement that lawmakers disclose if they or anyone in their immediate family receive the government help. But the Senate did not include the provision and in the end the House and Senate agreed to drop it.”

So much for transparency.

There are cuts to food stamps, but they’re little more than a campaign talking point. At a time when the GOP is pointing out how the Obama recovery has failed to provide jobs, Republicans are also taking credit for cutting food stamps.

But those cuts amount to almost nothing, and they mean absolutely nothing when they’re part of a broader reform in the program.

The Farm Bill fight is over. Republicans can’t honestly declare victory.