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Put a Pitchfork In It

Friday, September 21, 2012

Speaker Boehner was right to put a fork – a pitchfork – in one of the worst pieces of farm and food legislation in decades.

The farm bill produced by the House Agriculture Committee would have increased farm welfare at a time of record farm income by increasing price guarantees for major crops like corn and cotton and expanding crop insurance subsidies.

The Speaker was right to turn aside pressure from farm state legislators and lobbyists trying to use the smokescreen of the current drought to allow consideration of a bill that would expand those subsidies and that includes, in Speaker Boehner’s words, other “Soviet-style” provisions.

As The Wall Street Journal sagely observed:

What the GOP leadership understands… is that locking in five years of sky-high farm bill dollars before a bigger debate over spending and taxes would be political and fiscal folly.

Now is clearly not the time to expand subsidies.

Net farm income has never been higher, according to USDA. The average annual household income of a large commercial farm is more than $200,000 and is expected to rise by 8 percent this this year.

Rejecting this farm bill should be an easy call for fiscal conservatives, regardless of party. Despite the fact that both bills finally end direct payments, the House and Senate bills would actually increase insurance subsidies and price guarantees when compared to the 2008 farm bill.

That’s right.

Even though net farm income has increased from $85 billion in 2008 to more than $122 billion in 2012, the House bill provides price guarantees that will cost taxpayers nearly $10 billion more over the next five years and increase the cost of insurance subsidies by $3.2 billion between 2013 and 2017, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Nevertheless, some of Congress’ most outspoken budget hawks – including some members of the Tea Party, the Republican Study Committee and the budget-cutting blue dog coalition – were among the first to support the House bill or sign a discharge petition to send it to the floor for debate.

The Speaker did the right thing by demanding a farm bill that helps farmers when they need help – and by rejecting a farm bill that would increase farm welfare at a time of record farm income.