Congress' Farm Bill
In 2006, one of the key factors in the Democrat victory was the public’s disgust at the Republican party’s corruption and general lack of financial restraint. It’s hard to blame the voters—pork spending was out of control, the federal budget was growing by leaps and bounds, and crooked lobbyists like Jack Abramhoff worked hand-in-glove with many Republican congressmen. Many voters felt that new leadership in Washington would end all that, or at least slow it down, and Nancy Pelosi promised an open, honest Congress.
Congress hasn’t lived up to Pelosi’s promises, but no one really expected it to anyway. Most people don’t expect any sort of financial responsibility from Congress, and are happy to let Congress spend their money on $100 toilet seats or $400 million dollar bridges to nowhere. But America’s lack of concern or awareness of Congress’ soon-to-be passed farm subsidy bill is disheartening. It seems that perhaps the French are right: maybe Americans are stupid. The fact that there is no outcry against the farm bill is mind-boggling.
Pork spending is one thing. The farm bill is another. It will cost American over $300 billion—a thousand dollars for every man, woman, and child in America. Putting that number in perspective, the cost of the Iraq War over six years has been around $500 billion, which comes out to a little less than a $100 billion a year. Yet the same people who complain about the financial irresponsibility of the Iraq War happily vote for this absurd, bloated bill.
Almost nothing in this bill is excusable. Most farms are doing quite well; net farm income has risen 56 percent over the past two years. Most farmers don’t need government help, but will get it anyway. And it won’t discriminate—everybody will get some federal funds.
Farmers in the top 1% of earners are eligible for federal money. The bulk of payments go to large farms with incomes over $200,000, and a net worth of over $2 million. How much does a farmer have to earn before his subsidies are cut? One million dollars. Over five billion dollars of the bill are allotted to wholly unnecessary direct payments to prosperous farmers. This bill is Robin Hood in reverse—it robs from the poor to give to the rich.
Of course, there is plenty of outright pork included in the bill to keep the folks back home happy. $93 million dollars in tax breaks for race horses (well, not for the race horses exactly, but for their owners. And do people who can afford race horses really need tax breaks?), $250 million for the quite prosperous Montana-based Plum Creek Timber Company, and the bill includes a supply-control sugar program in which the government buys sugar from farmers, which it sells it at an 80% loss. And, of course, there is an ethanol provision as well—subsidies would drive over 25% of American corn into ethanol production.
This bill is so obviously completely unnecessary and corrupt that it is hard to imagine a way in which any congressman could in good conscience vote for it. Yet it will pass overwhelmingly, with overwhelming bipartisan support. 81 Senators voted for this shameful bill, along with 117 Representatives.
Of the presidential contenders, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama strongly support the bill. Hillary suggested that saying no to the farm bill was like “saying no to rural America.” (Which it would be, if all of rural America was worth over a million dollars).
Barack Obama supports the bill, though with reservations. However, he says that he doesn’t want “the perfect” to be the enemy of “the good” (is anything in this awful bill good?), and he “applauds” the Senate’s passage of the bill. He claims that those who oppose it are “saying no to America's farmers and ranchers, no to energy independence [I assume that he is referring to ethanol subsidies, which would do absolutely nothing to make us energy independent], no to the environment [ethanol again; ethanol doesn't help the environment much either], and no to millions of hungry people [except that the ethanol subsidies Obama support actually raise food prices by significant amounts, which is a major factor in world hunger]."
This bill gets support from nearly everyone in Washington. Does anybody have integrity to stand against this bill? To his credit, Bush plans to veto the bill, although his veto will be killed by Congress.
The other prominent politician to stand against the bill is John McCain. He is the one man in Washington willing to take a stand against the powerful interests fighting for this bill. (It’s hard to count Bush’s veto as “taking a stand”, since he signed a 2002 version of the bill before he became a lame duck, and the 2008 bill passed by a veto proof majority anyway). John McCain often upsets conservatives—but it is comforting to see that he doesn’t mind upsetting other groups as well. His opposition to this bill is commendable—and exactly what the Republican party needs to see from its representatives.