Farm Bill: Pork Not Corn

The Senate blocked the current $286 billion farm subsidy bill Friday, “a blow to farm-state lawmakers who wanted to give their constituents expanded subsidies before next year’s elections,” The Associated Press reports.

President Bush has threatened to veto the pork-laden spending measure, saying it’s too expensive and would hand wealthy farmers too much tax loot.

But Senate Agriculture Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, speculated on the floor Friday that the White House has been actually pressuring Republicans to stop the bill because President Bush doesn’t want to veto legislation that’s so popular in the farm states.
“I certainly hope the situation is not a deliberate, or orchestrated, attempt to stop the farm bill dead in its tracks,” Harkin said.

We should only wish.

The goal of this and all previous farm bills is to make sure food prices stay high for consumers by involving Washington in complex schemes to buy and store surplus produce or to pay farmers to destroy food, or to simply grow less in the first place. It would be hard to imagine a weirder and more complex scheme, especially when one considers it’s designed to make sure the average voter and taxpayer pays more – not less – for his groceries.

So much for “the good of the majority.”

Not only that, the current “compromise” handout scheme fails to address demands from nations in the World Trade Organization for drastic cuts in U.S. subsidies – a conflict that led to the collapse of World Trade Organization talks last summer – and threats that a failure to make those real reforms could bring reprisals from our trading partners in the form of punitive tariffs on U.S. exports.

The current House and Senate bills “will do very little to make our agriculture policies more equitable, will not address the real challenges we face at the WTO, and it will not do anything to help our farmers produce for the market rather than for the government paycheck,” explains Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis.

Under our expiring agricultural five-year plan, farmers who earn as much as $2.5 million per year are eligible for handouts. President Bush and his agriculture secretary had asked legislators to limit payoffs to farmers who earn no more than $250,000. But the “compromise” five-year bill reported out of the Senate Agriculture Committee would provide more than $280 billion in agriculture subsidies (that’s “billion” with a “b”) while imposing no income-based limits on what a person defined as a farmer can collect from the government, whatsoever. None.

Certainly looking like they were trying to gum up the deal, Republican senators tried to offer amendments last week dealing with the alternative minimum tax, immigration and other non agricultural issues. Republicans then blamed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., for attempting to limit their amendments.

“The Senate will pass a farm bill – that is certain – but only after an open and fair debate on the Senate floor,” jawed Senate Minority Leader Foghorn – er, that is to say, Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Democrats needed 60 votes they needed to cut off debate. The final vote was 55-42.

Farm state Democrats, left with no bag of presents for their local land barons as they head home for Thanksgiving recess, said the failure to end debate could push consideration of the legislation into 2008 or beyond. Sen. Harkin surmised the bill may fare better after next year’s elections, with a new Congress and a new president.

Ongoing farm subsidies and other programs, including food stamps, are now operating under a constitutionally dubious “temporary extension” of the old five-year plan. The top Republican on the House Agriculture Committee said Thursday that he would support extending the current handout schemes till Sept. 30, the end of the current budget year.

This isn’t rocket science. Why should taxpayers be in the business of providing subsidies to corn growers or soybean farmers who make 20 times more than the average family?

American farmers should allocate their lands according to which crops will pay best in a free market – the kind of market in which our candy factories don’t have to move their jobs to Mexico to escape the ban on using cheap Dominican sugar.

The best solution to the pending expiration of the farm bill would be to let it expire and pop champagne corks – a national version of a mortgage-burning party.

But that will happen, of course, around the time Harry Reid and Shelley Berkley show up in Nogales with their machine guns, their land mines, and their camouflage fatigues, ready to keep their promise to “start by sealing the border.”

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