By Robert Schlesinger |
At a time of record high food prices, record high farm incomes, and skyrocketing debt, taxpayers simply can't afford a $1 trillion farm bill. With our national debt surpassing $16 trillion, the time is now for Congress to get serious about winding down agriculture subsidies, but this year's legislation does little to slow the gravy train. The bill is 60 percent larger than the last version, comprising more spending than the infamous Wall Street bailout or even "Obamacare."
Proponents of this food and farm welfare legislation have been touting this summer's serious drought conditions to argue for immediate passage. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture says that net farm income is expected to rise nearly 4 percent, making the $122.2 billion farmers will rake in the most profitable year on record despite the weather. And the bill would do next to nothing to address current suffering resulting from drought, since most of its provisions are forward-looking.
The farm economy as a whole simply isn't struggling. Thanks to high commodity prices and bigger crop yields, the financial outlook for American farms has been improving steadily. Since the 1990s, farm income has trended upward at a much faster pace than other U.S. households. In 2010, the average annual income for a farming household was $84,440, well above the national mean of $64,000.
In place of the disastrous old "direct payments" regime, the new bill would institute what's called "shallow loss" coverage to essentially guarantee profits and other crop insurance programs that could end up costing taxpayers billions more than the status quo. This makes our farm policy less of a "safety net" than a taxpayer-funded "golden parachute."
Rather than spending money we don't have on a farm bill we don't need, packed with expensive handouts for everything from catfish to cotton, Congress should heed the consensus of both liberal and conservative watchdog groups: Farm subsidies, though well-intentioned, are expensive, inefficient, and the time has come to dismantle them.
If Congress wants to improve the outlook for farmers, they should begin with wholesale tax reform, including a repeal of the death tax that threatens many families, and start winding down government mandates that hinder our markets, like the Renewable Fuel Standard's ethanol mandate. It's time to get Washington out of the tractor seat and stop harvesting dollars from hard-working taxpayers.
About Nan Swift Federal Government Affairs Manager at the National Taxpayers Union
Melissa Boteach Director of the Poverty and Prosperity Program for Center for American Progress
Jim Weill President of the Food Research and Action Center
Roger Johnson President of the National Farmers Union
Leonard Boswell Democratic U.S. Representative from Iowa