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A Miracle Happened Last Week in Washington: Congress Failed to Mulct the Citizenry

June 24, 2013 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

A miracle happened in Washington last week. Legislators failed in their attempt to mulct the public.

Congress is debating the so-called Federal Agricultural Reform and Risk Management Act. More commonly known as the Farm Bill, it is a looting expedition, roughly 80 percent general welfare (Food Stamps, officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and 20 percent farm welfare (agricultural price supports).

Although Washington is drowning in red ink, Republicans and Democrats disagree only over minor details. The Democratic Senate approved a $955 billion package. The House Republican leadership pushed a $940 billion measure.

Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), the ranking member of the Agriculture Committee, opined that “It is a compromise between commodities and regions, and urban and rural members.” While “I didn’t get everything I wanted,” he allowed, “in most areas of the bill, if I were chairman I wouldn’t do anything different.”

The 2008 Farm Bill was expected to cost $640 billion over ten years. So in five years the price of the agricultural dole has jumped 50 percent. Take inflation into account and the real increase was still 40 percent.

However, because the Congressional Budget Office said existing law would cost $973 billion over the next ten years, House Republicans claimed to be “saving” $33 billion even while spending $300 billion more. Only in Washington!

A half century ago Congress tied general welfare to farm welfare for two reasons. First, to increase demand, and thus prices, for food. Second, to create a classic log roll: both urban and rural legislators got something for their constituents.

Legislators are surprisingly honest about their strategy. Sen. Thad Cochrane (R-Miss.) explained that “the declining rural population translated into fewer rural representatives in the House and fewer votes for the Farm Bill.” Thus, Food Stamps were included “purely from a political perspective. It helps get the Farm Bill passed.” The Washington Post observed: “the Farm Bill has epitomized bipartisanship and coalition-building at its worst: an unholy alliance of urban and rural lawmakers of both parties who supported each other’s interests—nutrition program and producer subsidies, respectively—without having to justify either one on its independent merits.”

Of course, federal money really isn’t free. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Ok) complained about the government “tying strings to how farmers farm.” Why, “we have a social tool here that’s used to direct how farmers use their lives and conduct their business.” But that’s a price of suckling on the federal teat.

Since the Farm Bill is considered “must pass,” it also tends to become …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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