MENU

Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

Farm Subsidies May Not Have Their Revenge In Washington

Will sacred cows be slain in the federal government’s ongoing budget battles? The Wall Street Journal reports that corporate welfare for farmers, long untouchable by politicians in either party, are being targeted:

With the farm economy booming and Washington on a diet, a program set up in the 1990s that cuts checks to farmers could be trimmed or eliminated next year when Congress writes a new five-year farm bill. A group of conservative lawmakers has set its sights on these direct payments, and even farm-state Democrats who like the program say high crop prices make the outlays of about $5 billion a year harder to justify. Recently, the National Corn Growers Association, an industry lobby group, urged Congress to revamp the program, fearing it would be eliminated altogether.

Hold on a minute. Why do we need to do anything at all to get rid of these payments? Weren’t they supposed to be temporary?

Oh right. They were. But then, well, not so much:

The farm payments at risk were supposed to be temporary. Lawmakers designed the program in the 1996 farm bill to wean farmers of rice, feed grains, cotton and later soybeans off years of subsidies tied to keeping portions of land fallow.

Here’s the thing about “temporary subsidies” in Washington: They usually end up lasting to infinity and beyond. Anyone who wants to get rid of them ends up answering angry questions like: Don’t you support the nation’s hard working farmers? Of course, as with a lot of Washington rhetoric, that requires some unpacking. “Support” means “subsidize with taxpayer funds"; “hard working” means “doing record business"; and “nation’s...farmers” refers to “your constituents, hint, hint.” 

The direct payments have endured and are now a cornerstone of American farm subsidies. The $5 billion in direct payments to farmers accounts for a third of the roughly $15 billion in total farm subsidies last year, according to government data.

Benefiting are about one million farmers on 260 million acres of land spread around 364 of 435 congressional districts, according to the Agriculture Department and the Environmental Working Group, a organization that wants to eliminate some farm subsidies and use the money to protect natural habitats.

With the farm sector booming—the USDA estimates net farm income this year will be the second-highest in 35 years—direct payments have become an easy target. Iowa State University economist Chad Hart notes that the payments go to farmers regardless of crop price or quality—a way to provide assistance without violating international trade rules.

I’d be thrilled to see direct payments put through the wood chipper. But I’m still skeptical that it will happen. When Oklahoma Rep. Frank Lucas, the Republican head of the House Agricultural Committee, was asked by Reuters to comment on the fact that the GOP budget put together by Rep. Paul Ryan calls for saving $30 billion by cutting direct payment to farmers, he basically chuckled and gave the reporter a pat on the head. Ryan’s proposed cuts were merely “suggestions,” according to Lucas. "At the end of the day, members of the House Agriculture Committee and I will write the next farm bill." It’s hard to slay a sacred cow when the priests who made it powerful are still determined to protect it.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    Wow, OK thats kinda crazy when you think about it dude. Wow.

    www.total-privacy.it.tc

  • ||

    Those clowns in congress did it again. What a bunch of clowns.

  • ||

    Will sacred cows be slain in the federal government’s ongoing budget battles?

    No.

    Don’t you support the nation’s hard working farmers?

    Fuck no. Why is their hard work any more special than anyone elses?

  • ||

    Don’t you support the nation’s hard working farmers?

    Answer: I support the nation's hardworking taxpayers. All of them.

  • ||

    Why not try to create a "win-win" situation? Congress should eliminate any and all farm subsidies, while at the same time eliminate some of the idiotic federal regulations that increase the cost to farmers.

    Of course, that would mean the federal government would have less control over farmers, and one less way to "bring home the bacon." Stupid common sense.

  • ||

    The next thing you know, they'll try to kill the CRP*, and the bird hunters will rise up en masse.

    Pays farmers to *not* farm their land, to provide habitat.

  • ||

    Wouldn't it be cheaper simply to buy the land and turn it into a bird habitat?

  • ||

    I love your song lyrics headline puns, Suderman.

  • ||

    The next thing you radical union dissolutions will advocate is abolishing our helium and chinchilla fur reserves, leaving us unable to maintain a defensible dirigible perimeter, uh, defense, maned by chinchilla fur wearing rigidable air balloonists...without which we are periously imperiled by terrorist zepppelin attack. Millions for helium, not one cent for tribute!

  • ||

    a defensible dirigible perimeter, uh, defense, maned by chinchilla fur wearing

    Typos like this are why there is an RC'z Law.

  • air ma pas cher||

    thank you

  • ||

    The fact that it's so-fucking-hard to cut farm subsidies ought to be a lesson to progressives and anyone else who believes in "counter cyclical" spending.

  • ||

    Wouldn't it be cheaper simply to buy the land and turn it into a bird habitat?

    That's crazy talk!

  • ||

    Sounds like Representative Frank Lucas was weaned on pickle.

    WTF? Most of the gravy goes to the big puss-gut farming outfits, anyway. What the eff?

    Makes sense, though, in this upside-down, socialist, capitalist, communist, atheist, buddhist, see-you-next-Tuesday, sick sad world of ours.

    Choke on your food, Lucas. Darn.

  • ||

    Furthermore: I've heard that if you tune into Twitter on Tuesday evenings, farmers from all over the states talk about farming/consumer issues at #agchat.

    This would make a good topic for discussion, by God. This is a real tornado.

  • ||

    It's ridiculous that food prices are sky rocketing and taxpayers are still paying them not to produce. Oh wait, we've seen this before:

    http://www.intellectualtakeout.....d-1938-aaa

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online