Who Can Save Us From the Farm Bill's False Savings?

Just as critics feared, the Farm Bill is waste billed as savings.


Billy Hathorn / Wikimedia Commons

When the U.S. Senate voted in favor of passage of the 2014 Farm Bill in February, the buzz on Capitol Hill was that the bill would "save" taxpayers lots of money.

A giddy press release put out by the Senate Agriculture Committee, hailing the passage of the Farm Bill as it awaited Pres. Barack Obama's rubber stamp signature, used some version of the word "save" at least eight times.

The Farm Bill "[s]aves $23 Billion…. save taxpayer money… finding savings… save taxpayers billions…. saves taxpayer dollars…." and so on.

Many of the savings claims in the press release are attributed to the Ag Committee chairwoman, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who authored the bill.

Stabenow issued a slew of her own press releases touting the bill's cost-saving ability.

The bill will "reduce the deficit," boasted one.

And she touted the bill's savings in comments to the media.

"Specifically," read a New York Times report on passage of the Farm Bill, "Ms. Stabenow pointed out that the bill eliminates a much-criticized $5 billion-a-year crop subsidy to farmers who received the payments whether they grew crops or not."

She also put this shift front and center in her press releases.

"Eliminates unnecessary direct payment subsidies, a significant reform in American agriculture policy," her office wrote in a prominent bullet point on the Farm Bill. "Direct payments are paid out every year whether or not there is a need for support."

Stabenow is right that direct subsidies are an enormous waste of money.

But instead of simply eliminating such subsidies, critics like me suggested Stabenow and her bipartisan, bicameral colleagues in Congress were simply replacing them with another form of subsidies—taxpayer supported crop insurance—which could end up costing taxpayers even more money.

Still, Congress estimated the switch could save up to $14 billion per year.

How's that working out? Not so well.

In fact, crop insurance subsidies in the Farm Bill could cost billions more than predicted.

"U.S. farmers are about to reap a bumper harvest not just in corn and soybeans but also in new subsidies that could soar to $10 billion, blowing a hole in the government's promise that its new five-year farm bill would save taxpayers money," reported Reuters last month.

The news agency notes that would be "more than 10 times the U.S. Department of Agriculture's working estimate" of crop insurance payouts.

Not surprisingly, advocates I spoke with by email this week are outraged.

"While it's not surprising that the Farm Bill is outstripping cost estimates before its first year is over, it certainly is appalling," says Andrew Moylan, executive director of the R Street Institute.

"When Washington fails to honestly account for how much the federal government spends on food and farm programs, it gets in the way of much-needed reform," says Christine Harbin Hanson, national issue campaign manager with Americans for Prosperity.

"These latest reports serve as a reminder of why it's so important not to accept promises of spending reform at face value," says Coalition to Reduce Spending president Jonathan Bydlak. "The next time Congress wants to spend nearly a trillion dollars and promise reform, elected officials and voters alike ought to remember this case."

"Conservatives warned lawmakers that Farm Bill apologists were pulling a bait and switch by swapping the discredited direct payments program for even more costly open-ended 'shallow loss' subsidy schemes," says Joshua Sewell, senior policy analyst with Taxpayers for Common Sense. "We've been proven correct."

As if all this bad news weren't enough, news of the Farm Bill's massive waste coincides with the release of a damning new GAO report on crop insurance and climate change. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition characterizes the report as demonstrating the Farm Bill "may actually encourage shortsighted farming practices that increase a farmer's exposure to long-term climate change risks."

"Repeatedly bailing farmers out after extreme weather events through crop insurance subsidies without requiring them in exchange to adapt to climate change and build resiliency into their operations is the very definition of wasteful and shortsighted government," says Don Carr, an agriculture and environment blogger and longtime critic of federal farm policy, also by email.

"By failing to adequately reform subsidies, particularly crop insurance supports, Congress has encouraged environmentally harmful farming practices that threaten sensitive lands in addition to taxpayers' wallets," Moylan says.

In October, a spokeswoman for Sen. Stabenow called it "premature to speculate about the Farm Bill savings when major programs haven't even gone into effect yet." Translation: Once the really wasteful spending really kicks in, that's when the savings start.

I'll be the first to admit that I've never understood Washington math, where spending hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money "saves" taxpayers money. But then, I'm not a member of Congress.

But maybe I can learn to think like one. So here's my pitch to Sen. Stabenow: If you'll please let me borrow your credit card for the holiday season, I promise I can save you thousands (or even more, depending on your credit limit).

NEXT: Tonight on The Independents: The Supremes! (As in Court.) Starring Damon Root, Judge Napolitano, Peter Suderman, and Timothy Sandefur!

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  1. When everybody's eating delicious, nutritious Soylent Green, we won't need any more farms.

    1. The cronyism in this bill doesn't surprise me. Nothing in it surprises me, except that fact that our government can spend billions of dollars on farming yet we aren't roaming the streets for cats and dogs because of food shortages.

    2. At least Soylent Green would be nutritionally better for us than corn and soybean. It'd be high in saturated fat and protein!

      Cure the obesity epidemic with Soylent Green!!

      1. Well, that would be easy enough. Just tell the meat suppliers to go after the fat ones. Boom, obesity epidemic gone over night.

  2. As P. J. O'Rourke has pointed out, since the average person is smart enough to already do what is in his best interest and you only have to get paid to do things you would otherwise not do, almost any time the government pays somebody to do something it's paying them to do something stupid. And anybody who thinks farmers are the salt of the earth rather than the hardest of hardcore communists doesn't know a damn thing about farmers, communism or history.

    1. There are no small farmers left. Farms are either huge or novelty operations supported by people working in town to suppor their farming habit.

      The subsidies and especially the hideous ethenol mandate has created an enormous bubble in midwestern farm land prices. If the subsides or the mandate ever go, that bubble is going to burst and some very rich and powerful people and corporations will lose a lot of money. So of course the government is robbing the taxpayers to keep that from happening.

      1. Dude, you guys don't know shit about farming, and it shows.

        Plenty of smaller family farms all over the country, growing corn & beans in the Midwest and wheat & sorghum, etc out in Kansas and Oklahoma. The small family farms do not receive magic checks from the government, but they obviously profit from the inflated corn price via the ethanol subsidy. General monetary and subsequent price inflation show up in the other crops, but the inputs have risen drastically in the past ten years, making it marginal at best.

        1. Dude,

          My entire family farms in Kansas. And none of those small operations are profitable without subsidies. And there isn't a farm in the state of Kansas that doesn't get a check from the government.

  3. The cupboard is bare!

    "A provision from Sen. Tom Coburn to reduce payouts for farmers with over $750,000 in income was stripped from the final bill, despite passing the Senate twice. The Environmental Working Group, a critic of crop insurance, estimates that 10,000 policyholders receive over $100,000 a year in subsidies annually, with some receiving over $1 million, while the bottom 80 percent of farmers, the mom-and-pop operations, collect only $5,000 annually."


    1. Even those kinds of limits are virtually meaningless. The big farming operations just split up into shell corporations that are below the income threshhold. There are millionaire farmers out there who collect every subsidy known to mankind by just puting some of their operation in thier kids' name and having them get the subsidy.

      The whole thing needs to die and its body burned.

      1. Wifes are separate farming entity as well.

  4. "Repeatedly bailing farmers out after extreme weather events through crop insurance subsidies without requiring them in exchange to adapt to climate change and build resiliency into their operations is the very definition of wasteful and shortsighted government," says Don Carr, an agriculture and environment blogger and longtime critic of federal farm policy, also by email.

    Fixed, you twit. Go to the bottom of the ocean and find me some of that heat that magically teleported there.

  5. Obamacare for farmers drives up land values by giving the largest benefits to those who are least needy of any government help and drives smaller farmers out of business by giving the greatest benefits to the wealthiest and largest farmers. The last thing the most competitive farmers need is the most government financial help. The billions for the millionaires farm bill is a family farmer killer on steroids.

  6. Its not the "Farm Bill". The real name is the Agricultural Act of 2014.

    The vast majority of the money, 80% goes to Food Stamps and nutrition programs.

    Food stamps and nutrition $756 billion
    Crop insurance $89.8 billion
    Conservation $56 billion
    Commodity programs $44.4 billion
    Everything else $8.2 billion.

    1. $756 Billion dollars for food stamps. To put that into perspective, the entire fucking Iraq war cost about $1.2 trillion dollars, or about six years of food stamps.

      And remember, obesity is considered epidemic among the poor.

      1. That number has to be wrong, becasue that comes out to about $2400 for every man, woman, and child in America.

        1. Administrative costs. The bureaucrats need to wet their beaks.

        2. It is not for one year of funding. It is for four years or maybe three.

        3. It should be around $80B a year.

      2. Uh....1.2T is only 1.56x 756B
        So A year and a half of food stamps.

        1. The Ag bill is for four years of food stamps I think. They don't spend that much every year. They only do an Ag bill every three or four years.

      3. ...or about six years of food stamps

        2 * $756B... *finger, finger, toe, carry the one* *scratches melon* *stops to think, nearly forgets to start again*

        Uh, six?

        1. 756/4= 189 per year.

          189 x six years equals 1.134 trillion dollars.

          So between six and seven years of food stamps.


    2. That is $8.2 billion of taxpayer dollars being flushed down government farm program and crop insurance rat holes.

  7. the Farm Bill "may actually encourage shortsighted farming practices that increase a farmer's exposure to long-term climate change risks."

    This seems eerily familiar.

    1. Nothing is more racist than wanting more black children to be born.

      Progressives in general and progressive journalists in particular have no ability to think rationally or make a reasoned argument. They really do, as sarcasmic says "emote". Their emotions tell them what their opinions are and everything else is just justification. I wouldn't call it "rationalizing" because none of their justifications are ever coherent much less rational.

    2. Here is one thread of the comments:


      #4. Wow,

      I'm pro choice myself, but article was a little over the top with this accusation. Wouldn't truly racist people encourage the abortions of minority babies?

      booful 98

      It's a different kind of racism. Pro-lifers tends to be fiercely Christian. The brand of racism they tend to have is the "save the downtrodden minority" kind. The white savior come to save/teach the savages kind.

      It's more subtle and equally assholish.


      They're racist because they believe that a tangential connection to a broad race catagory somehow gives them more rights to talk about that race than members of that actual race.

      A form of 'White Makes Right' thinking.

      I don't see why the very clear ideas expressed by the author are causing so many people so much trouble.


      Look, I am going to go ahead and say it: I believe in Christianity.
      But evangelical missionaries drive me up the f*****g wall. It is an absurd arrogance to believe that your beliefs are better than the ones that people in certain parts of the world have held for generations. It is arrogant and racist to think that you can go to Africa and do the "Lord's work" by "saving" people who are just fine in their beliefs and they certainly don't think yours is better.

      1. I believe in Christianity.


        It is an absurd arrogance to believe that your beliefs are better than the ones that people in certain parts of the world have held for generations.

        Does not compute. I always argue with Libertarians when they say that people in general are stupid. But, wow do self described Progressives try hard to prove me wrong. These people's ignorance and irrationality is apalling.

        1. These people's ignorance and irrationality is apalling.

          I just do not understand. I cannot comprehend how a person is capable of this level of self-deception.

          They are presumably at home by themselves where the only sensory input is the words they are reading on the screen. They are not in a crowd or have to deal with all the subtle manipulations that go with face-to-face interactions.

          This has to be programming of some sort.

          1. They must really hate themselves. How do you grow up and live fat, dumb and happy in the US, living better than 90% or more or the world thinking the entire system that provides this is racist and evil and not hate yourself for benefiting from it?

            They are just fucked up and broken people all of them.

          2. I can partially understand the author of the article making outrageous statements to get people worked up and get eye balls to the site. But doesn't he want to actually persuade people? Is it just a job and the author is, for the most part, detached?

      2. It is an absurd arrogance to believe that your beliefs are better than the ones that people in certain parts of the world have held for generations.

        Okay, now apply that 'logic' to the way women are treated in Western countries vs. Islamic countries. I guess it's an absurd arrogance to believe that the Western countries' beliefs are better.

        1. The funny thing is that that is exactly what Southern slave owners said in response to Northern abolitionists. It was their special culture and how dare someone who was not a part of it say it was wrong.

  8. My wife fussed at me yesterday to get me to quit cussing in the grocery store. All the meat, poultry and fish has doubled in price in just a year. A quart of name brand Mayo was $7.35. Fuckin' mayo for christs sake. Canned vegetables that were 4/$1 the last time I stocked up (2 yrs) are now 5/$3.50.

    Where is that slimy liar that shows up here to tell us that obamacare will make our health insurance go down by $2500/yr and there is no inflation? He should double down on the coke until he has a stroke.

    1. Yet gas prices continue to drop. Imagine how low they would be without inflation.

      1. Or if the dollar wasn't constantly in the toilet.

        1. Yep. But especially energy prices. I've noticed food prices go up and up and up. I'm making my grocery list right now. It's crazy.

          Here's the five year chart for beef:


          But gas prices are low and the stock market is at all time highs!

    2. Where the fuck are you shopping? I just bought some Mayo last week for 4.99?

    3. But BTC and shop somewhere else. Those prices are silly.

  9. there sure are a lot of farmers in urban zip codes collecting checks.

    1. I'm sure you've heard of the new fashion of farming the space between the sidewalks and the curbs, right?
      Well, those folks deserve subsidies, too!

  10. Instapundit linked to this Q&A with NYPD cops about the Garner thing. It makes for very interesting reading.


    One interesting thing is this

    What do you think about all this? I mean, honestly ? that video. Eric Garner looked so scared.
    Well, Garner was in bad health, and Pantaleo said it wasn't a chokehold; he was just trying to take him down so they could arrest him. The thing that nobody hears about in the media is that Garner had been arrested for this before. The store owners, they had been ? saying he was taking away their business. These people pay their taxes; they pay for tobacco licenses. They wanted him gone.

    So much for the liberal talking point that the tax laws are not what caused this. The stores understandably didn't want Garner undercutting them and wanted him gone. If it wasn't for New York's insane tobacco taxes, Garner wouldn't have been able to do that and the stores would have never had an issue.

    1. Then there is this

      So you don't think this is a race thing?
      No, it's not a race thing. It's a Ray Kelly thing. That man singlehandedly ruined this department. When I came up as a rookie, you were assigned an older cop who had been around and knew what they were doing. We were taught that you catch more flies with honey. Basically, if you let the small things go ? like the guy selling loosies or weed or whatever on the corner ? then when the big shit happens, like homicide or burglary, those are the same guys who will tell you all about it. If they hate you, they won't tell you shit.

      But this is happening everywhere. I mean, Ferguson ? there have been so many of these cases for so long.
      All I know is New York City. Nowadays, since Kelly's Operation Impact, rookies are taught one thing: Write tickets, do searches, make money. They'll have a quota they have to fill. They're not supposed to, but they do. They come up not knowing their asses from their elbows. These rookies don't understand how to let the small stuff go. They'll be on your back for a bag of grass. So then when things happen, they overreact.

    2. And the money quote

      But there's so much anger against the NYPD.
      They hate us because we take away their freedom.

      So the more laws you have, the more criminals you have and the more people see their freedom taken away by the cops and more people hate the cops.

      Laws are the problem here. And man Ray Kelly is a shit bag.

      1. I think that is exactly right, and the more laws, the more enforcement and the more opportunities for naturally corruptible human beings to inflict harm instead of prevent it.

  11. i buy almost everything except food and clothing from online auctions most people aren't aware of the almost I unbelievable deals that they can get from online auction sites the site that has the best deals is.

  12. My best friend's mother-in-law makes $85 /hour on the internet . She has been out of work for 5 months but last month her pay was $16453 just working on the internet for a few hours.
    Visit this website ????? http://www.jobsfish.com

  13. This new farm bill is all about giving those farmers who are least needy of any government help the largest government financial benefits. Government is stealing from smaller farmers a fair and equal opportunity to compete by continually granting the most competitive the greatest financial edge.

  14. And what are the Republicans doing during all this? Trying to stop peaceful people from living and working where they choose and passing dangerous resolutions condemning Russia and marching us closer to war. To all the Republicans who argued that libertarians should vote for Republicans instead of 'throwing their vote away', here is a big F-U.

    1. Concern troll is concerned.

      Save your sheckles and go the Urkobold school of trolling.

    2. Are you actually defending Obama's foreign policy regarding Russia? Thanks, I needed a laugh.

  15. Many of the savings claims in the press release are attributed to the Ag Committee chairwoman, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who authored the bill.

    Ol' Debbie is one of the worst.

  16. 10% of the 2014 Farm Bill money goes to crop insurance (farmers), 80% goes to nutrition and food stamps. One group of people are working their butts off and if they receive insurance payments it's due to uncontrollable causes. Also saying this year there may be a bumper crop of corn and soybeans as if that's a bad thing yet the price producers will receive for these bumper commodities are ridiculously low; again out of the producers control. The other group of people (those on food stamps), some are not working at all and have no desire to work, again this is 80% of the Farm Bill payments. Use reason and fact not distortion and bias to present as case. Do you want the majority of your food from America or some other country? I'm all for reducing federal spending however use reason when deciding where those cuts should take place.

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