Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Farm Bill Business as Usual

With farm commodity prices as high as they are one would think that something like the Farm Bill would be unnecessary. That might be true if the Farm Bill were about helping farmers; the fact that this monstrosity passed just proves that the Farm Bill is not about helping farmers - its about helping politicians get re-elected. From the WSJ:

Money may not grow on trees, but it's close enough for some gentleman farmers. Late last week, the Senate killed an attempt to limit federal subsidies flowing to farmers in the country's top income brackets.

Under the amendment sponsored by Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar, eligible recipients of the government's largesse would have been capped at incomes of $750,000 per year. How draconian. That's not even halfway to the White House's proposal to end the subsidies at adjusted gross income of $200,000, a level Democrats often use to define the "rich." The amendment nonetheless went down by a revealing 48-47, well short of the 60 votes needed to defeat a filibuster.

Naturally, Senators who voted to keep subsidies for the super-rich included those from the big cotton and rice states, such as Arkansas Democrats Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor. Kent Conrad, the populist "deficit hawk" from North Dakota, also joined a total of 12 Democrats in opposing limits on aid for big agribusiness. Even such vocal conservatives as Richard Burr (R., N.C.), Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) and Jim DeMint (R., S.C.) voted against capping the federal handout. Ditto for outgoing pork captain Trent Lott, and Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), among 35 Republicans all told.

The Senate then voted overwhelmingly to pass the farm bill, which will have to be reconciled with the House version, where the income cap is a mere $2 million. Farmers will reap around $20 billion this year in federal handouts -- despite strong crop prices and rising land values -- and two-thirds will go to the wealthiest 10% of farms. Politicians justify a more powerful government in the name of helping the poor, but the farm bill proves once again that in practice it typically serves the powerful.

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