The Farm Bill Is a Bad Joke with a Good Punch Line

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Now reformers are despondent and reactionaries are exultant. But the reactionaries have bought themselves only a brief and expensive respite from reality. A few years from now, the party will be over, fiscal and economic reality will be lashing Congress's back, and reform will be back on the table.

And then? Last October, Sen. Richard G. Lugar, R-Ind., proposed a different kind of farm program. The federal government would end crop subsidies and instead give each farmer a voucher, with which the farmer would buy "federally backed whole-farm income insurance that would guarantee 80 percent of the average income for that farm over the past five years." In other words, the government would support incomes instead of prices or production, an approach that would cause less economic mayhem while steering federal money to the neediest farmers rather than the biggest farms.

The Lugar idea flopped, not because it was wrongheaded but because it was premature. In five or 10 years, its time will come, even if Lugar himself has by then left the scene. Indeed, his suggestion went unheeded this year but not unnoticed. The Bush administration praised Lugar's farm bill -- before the president signed its opposite.

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