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That farmers wanted, needed, and deserved taxpayer subsidies is an idea that appears to have enjoyed wide support on both sides of the aisle.
The 1949 law—"passed by the present Democratic Congress—replaces most major provisions... enacted by the Republican 80th Congress," reported the Wilmington (Del.) Morning Star. "The GOP Law permitted somewhat lower supports for major crops."
That's not to say this slice of bi-partisan pork didn't have harsh critics.
The Pittsburgh Press editorial page blasted the new law under the headline "A Bone-Cracking Burden," calling it enough to "make the taxpayers even more angry about vote-seeking programs like buying farm produce with tax money to keep prices high."
"The taxpayer and the consumer are the forgotten man in this endeavor," complained Sen. Leverett Saltonstall (R-Mass.) after the bill's passage.
Even the president’s own support for the bill was lukewarm at best. Reports about President Truman signing the bill noted with surprise that he issued no signing statement to accompany the bill’s passage—a signal Truman was holding his nose as he signed it into law.
Criticism of post-1949 Farm Bills have been no less caustic than that levied by the Pittsburgh Press and Sen. Saltonstall.
A 1986 Milwaukee Journal editorial, for example, all but labeled American farmers employees of the U.S. government, noting that though "Uncle Sam himself... may not be out in the fields bringing in the crop... his money lines the pockets of many who are." The Journal then described virtually everything about how the Farm Bill works as "an insane way to do business."
And yet here we are today, witnessing Congress debating largely the same five-year plan.
So is it true that—without a new Farm Bill—we would be forced to live in an Instagram-like snapshot of the post-war America that existed before popcorn subsidies made her whole in recent years?
One alternative either to passing a new Farm Bill or reverting to the 1949 bill would be to pass a one-year extension of the existing bill. A coalition of environmental, conservative, and libertarian groups is urging Congress to do just that.
But even enacting those cuts might not prevent another back-to-the-future episode of the Farm Bill, where Congress could again use the threat of 1949 legislation in an attempt to ram through yet another lousy five-year plan.
But there is a fix. First, make sure this Farm Bill is the last Farm Bill. Second, if the specter of 1949 hanging over the heads of American farmers is truly the serious problem it appears to be, then Congress should do what it’s empowered to do but almost never does: Repeal the law.
Scrap the 1949 Farm Bill. It was a terrible idea then, and appears worse still today. It’s no alternative. So send it to the dustbin. Then Congress can and should get to work eliminating the very notion of farm subsidies and—indeed—of any sort of bloated, catch-all Farm Bill.