December 12, 2018

Another Bloated Farm Bill

Between food stamps and farm subsidies, this spending legislation should be scrapped.

The Republican record over the last two years includes a few big wins — tax cuts and court nominations are among the best. It also includes some major failures, such as ObamaCare repeal and now the latest farm bill. Earlier this year, we pointed out how bad the farm bill was. It’s gotten worse. Nevertheless, the Senate passed it 87-13, and it now heads to the House.

For reasons known only to members of Congress, the farm bill is where food stamps are allocated, and that welfare roll takes up 80% of the bill’s dollars. Despite an economic boom spurred in large part by GOP tax cuts, some 40 million Americans still receive food stamps. That’s double the number from 20 years ago, and, while it’s fallen a bit from the Barack Obama highs, it hasn’t fallen enough. Yet many Republicans seemingly have no interest in real reform, even as the specter of Democrats taking over the House in January looms.

With employers desperate for Americans to fill a near-record seven million job openings, there has hardly been a better time to stiffen work requirements for food stamps and truly reform the program. But breaking the cycle of dependence is hard — both for able-bodied adults who’d rather get a government check for nothing and for the politicians who want their votes. Thanks to the Senate, this farm bill is extremely light on those work requirements and makes virtually no effort to shrink the welfare rolls.

Food stamps aren’t the only problem, however. The farm bill is also larded up with income redistribution that benefits mainly wealthy corporate farmers. A 2017 Congressional Research Service report found that “farms with market revenue equal to or greater than $250,000 accounted for 12 percent of farm households, but received 60 percent of federal farm program payments.” Meanwhile, the smallest 80% of farms account for just 10% of the subsidies.

And you don’t even have to be a farmer to qualify. National Review notes, “For example, despite efforts to close a loophole that allows family members of farmers to receive subsidies even if they do not live or work on a farm, the final version of the bill expands that loophole to allow distant relatives such as cousins, nieces, and nephews to qualify for subsidies. That subsidy is worth up to $125,000 a year, about twice 2017’s national median household income.” All you have to do is claim “management” responsibility in the proper paper work, and you too can cash in. Subsidies are politically helpful, however, in part because President Donald Trump’s tariffs have been so painful for farmers.

If anything typifies the swamp, it’s big spending legislation like the farm bill. And, for now at least, it’s business as usual.

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