Government Backslides on Agriculture-Subsidies Transparency

From The Center for Public Integrity:

Identifying some individuals who receive generous federal crop subsidies without going anywhere near a farm has gotten trickier. The Department of Agriculture, which paid $15.4 billion in 2009 subsidies, is no longer centralizing the data that made it easier to pinpoint individuals who receive farm payments through their affiliation in farming corporations, co-ops and other types of business partnerships.

"Recipients can hide behind 'paper farms' and reap thousands of dollars in a taxpayers program without being accountable for it," said Don Carr, a spokesman for the Environmental Working Group (EWG). [...]

Why did the USDA discontinue the [...] database? A provision in Congress' 2008 farm law no longer requires the department to release this type of information. The new language says that the USDA "may" release the data instead of the USDA "shall" release it.

"The USDA said they don't have the money to do it, so they’re not going to do it," Carr said.

According to the USDA, to update and program the [...] database would cost an estimated $6.7 million, which was not appropriated in the 2008 farm law.

"Transparency is a priority for this administration and USDA, and information on farm payment recipients will be made available upon request on a program by program basis," said Justin DeJong, a USDA spokesman.

Reason on the Obama administration's transparency record here. The best transparency of all would be to eliminate "morally depraved" ag subsidies altogether, thereby allowing poor people to get less poor, and rich countries to spend their money on things more efficient and rewarding than tariffs, corporate welfare, federal bureaucracy, and lobbyists.

Link via Timothy Carney's nourishment-rich Twitter feed. Reason had some past fun with what the then-functional database turned up for the families of John Cougar Mellencamp and Michele Bachmann (Turner Overdrive). Reason.tv on farm subsidies below:

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  • ||

    "The USDA said they don't have the money to do it, so they’re not going to do it," Carr said.

    Eliminating waste; we're getting a handle on it!

  • BakedPenguin||

    "Michele Bachmann (Turner Overdrive)"

    I don't remember her on any of their albums. Not that I ever had them all.

    No sugar tonight in my coffee, no sugar tonight in my tea...

  • ||

    Wasn't that the Guess Who?

  • ||

    Oh shit, my 70's rock trivia machine is out of diesel. The Guess Who and Overdrive had some of the same members, right?

  • Skid Marx||

    I don't think so.

  • ||

    The internets give the answer.

    From The Guess Who's wiki page:

    The Guess Who also spawned the successful group Bachman–Turner Overdrive, when founding member Randy Bachman departed the Guess Who.

  • ||

    A provision in Congress' 2008 farm law

    Not that this gets President Obama off the hook, of course, even slightly, considering that he was proud to vote for the bill, which of course McCain voted against and even W vetoed. Of course, the latter just demonstrates that a bunch of farm-state Republicans and Democrats both voted for it.

  • The Libertarian Guy||

    Solution:

    Get rid of all farm subsidies.

    Nah, too simple and logical. Let's just keep paying farmers not to grow stuff.

  • ||

    Let's pass legislation to require wasteful diversion of crops (corn) into net-negative energy boondoggles (ethanol).

    Because everybody saw pretty pictures of farms and cows in elementary school.

  • The Libertarian Guy||

    AND continue to forbid the cultivation of industrial hemp, because it kinda looks like marijuana, which is just as bad as shooting heroin into your cock.

  • ||

    Then where are you supposed to shoot up, smart guy?

  • ||

    Farm subsidies are the biggest giveaway to the rich we have. What idiots like Mellencamp don't understand or do and just lie is that the small holding farm no longer exists, it exists because people work in town to support their farming habit.

    It is simple economies of scale. Once farm equipment got huge and hugely expansive, small holding were no longer profitable. I can't buy a $200,000 tractor to farm five hundred acres. I have to have thousands of acres to make that kind of investment work. So farms consolidated. Families got out of the farming business. And the ones who were really good and smart stayed and bought up the land of those who left and now have huge holdings. There are only big farmers left. You can't have farm subsidies without subsidizing huge and hugely wealthy people and corporations.

  • ||

    Not quite true.

    There are just enough genuine family farmers left so that the corporate promoters of these boondoogles can drag them out for tear-jerking examples of why the subsidies are "needed" to prevent the "family farm" from disappearing.

  • ||

    There are lots of genuine family farmers left. And they come in two varieties. People that have small holdings who do other jobs to support their farming habits. And there are families that have huge holdings. Those people are family farmers but they are not quite what gets put on the Farm Aid commercials. Just because you are not named Tyson doesn't mean that you are not a corporate farmer.

  • ||

    There is also a lot of people who inherit land and lease it for farming.

  • Ken||

    Moo.

    Give me money.

    Moo.

  • Ken||

    I would have made a... wheat sound. But I don't really know how.

    "Rustle? Rustle, rustle?"

  • ||

    Ka-ching?

  • ||

    If they keep artificially running up the price of commodities by subsidizing bio fuels, Ka-ching is a good description.

  • Rhywun||

    That's corn.

  • Pope Jimbo||

    You got it all wrong. Review the joke again and come back when you are ready to tell it right.

  • Keith Olbermann||

    I've already contributed by graduating from a cow college.
    clop. clop. Moo. Moo.

  • ||

    Don't you market fundamentalist fucks know that agriculture would never have been invented without government subsidies?

  • ||

    Other way around. Without agriculture, govt as we know it would never have existed.

  • ||

    No, you're wrong. I don't have to listen to your bullshit because you are a small minority. The majority decides the truth.

  • ||

    Im not sure what you mean by that. Are you talking about government subsidies in the Neolithic Era?

  • West Texas Boy||

    Im not sure what you mean by that.

    As with most of his comments, he doesn't either.

  • ||

    NAH NAH NAH NAH I'M NOT LISTENING!

  • ||

    What's that libertard? Government has always existed and will always exist.

  • ||

    *Don't you market fundamentalist fucks know that agriculture would never have been invented perfected without government subsidies?*

  • The Libertarian Guy||

    It's obvious that no one grew crops without getting money from the government - even when there WAS no government. D'oh.

  • ||

    No the government has always existed. Government created the earth in 6 days and saw that it was good. On the 7th day, it took a payed vacation.

  • ||

    Oh yeah that's true too.

  • ||

    Whoa whoa whoa. $6.7M to update "and program" an already-existing database? I think we've found the USDA equivalent of the $100,000 hammer.

  • ||

    Also;

    The Department of Agriculture, which paid $15.4 billion in 2009 subsidies

    and,

    database would cost an estimated $6.7 million.

    This is how it works, we can spend $15 billion on an entitlement, but $6 million is too much for the transparent dispensation of said entitlement.

  • Byron||

    They sure run an incredibly precise budget if that 0.04% makes all the difference.

  • Skid Marx||

    +0.04

  • ||

    That is just the subsidies budget, the entire Dept of Agriculture's 2010 budget is over $26 billion. That makes the update just .025%, of the total.

  • Barack Obama||

    Let me be clear, the time for transparent dispensation has ended.

  • bob||

    I'd like to see how many of the folks recieving ag subsidies are lily white, vote Republican and complain about the darkies gettin gubment cheese. I'll guess around 98%

  • ||

    Dang it bob, you know how hard them there people work? It is fucking labor intensive to not plant crops!

  • ||

    I'd like to see how many of the folks recieving ag subsidies are lily white, vote Republican and complain about the darkies gettin gubment cheese. I'll guess around 98%

    You'd be wrong then. They may vote Republican in general in national elections, but the Democratic Congressional majority depends on these people voting for Democrats for House and Senate.

    Obama "was proud to support the 2008 Farm Bill", and the sugar producers rewwarded him with votes.

  • West Texas Boy||

    My dad is about as leave-me-alone-conservative-barack-obama-is-evil as it comes, but he's also a farmer and that means he votes Democrat because "they take care of farmers."

    Everybody has a price.

  • ||

    Texas receives the most farm subsidies, and is arguably the reddest state in the union.

    Among the top 10 subsidized states 44% of their representatives, senators included, are republican. The number is 40% for the rest of the nation. One half of the top subsidized states went to McCain, more than the national average. From the links above.

  • ||

    Of course, these numbers do not take into account the skewing by large urban centers of Illinois, and California which are disproportionally liberal.

    It will be interesting to look at those numbers after the midterm elections, as many "unsafe" democratic seats are in the top ten states.

    I am just trying to point out that, like so many other things, farm subsidies are a bipartisan boondoggle.

  • ||

    I am just trying to point out that, like so many other things, farm subsidies are a bipartisan boondoggle.

    Oh sure, the 2008 farm bill wouldn't have passed over Bush's veto otherwise. Republicans, on average, are better on farm subsidies than Democrats representing the same constituency (same with free trade), but the overall view of the public is such that it doesn't make enough of a difference to matter.

    In particular, the fact that people will switch their vote on a pro-farm subsidy basis but no one will switch their vote solely for farm subsidies certainly contributes.

  • ||

    Yep, we are pretty much damned either way.

  • ||

    Pretty much. The Republican written farm bills are a tiny bit better than the Democratic ones, but not enough to really stand up and cheer about.

  • ||

    Here you can see the DNC attack McCain for being against sugar subsidies, because that means that you hate Louisiana.

    Unfortunately, while farmers will vote Democratic in order to get more farm subsidies, there isn't a voter alive who would otherwise vote Democratic but would vote for McCain or any other Republican for being against farm subsidies. So we get the policy we deserve.

  • Ted S.||

    I vote Libertarian.

    What did I do to deserve this policy?

  • ||

    In a democracy, everybody gets what the majority deserves.

  • jasno||

    You know Reason, I'd really appreciate an article telling me how to get some of this free money. I'm against subsidies in principle, but if there's free money afloat then hook me up!

    What do I have to do? Buy a few acres and throw in a pea patch?

  • ||

    Our current subsidies, like all of government, should be reviewed for waste.

    But keep in mind that most farm subsidies today are payments for voluntary incentive programs for environmental enhancements. We've come a long way away from the New Deal-type "pay farmers to stop farming" subsidies.

  • ||

    But keep in mind that most farm subsidies today are payments for voluntary incentive programs for environmental enhancements. We've come a long way away from the New Deal-type "pay farmers to stop farming" subsidies.

    This is utter bullshit. "Payments for voluntary incentive programs for environmental enhancements" is the new name for "pay farmers to stop farming."

    Intensive farming is bad for the environment, so stopping farming is an environmental enhancement.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    Apparently Major Major's dad had it right.

    He invested in land wisely and soon was not growing more alfalfa than any other man in the county.

  • Ted||

    Paying farmers not to farm is crazy! While there is still starving people in the world we should keep producing what we can.

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