After passing both the House and the Senate, the farm bill has now been signed by President Obama. The $950 billion legislation is being lauded as a $23 billion cut, but Michael Tanner at National Review has reported that this “cut” is nothing more than lawmakers spending less than they were expected to spend (a typical Washington accounting gimmick). In fact, it’s a spending increase. Compared to the last farm bill, this one costs $258 billion more after adjusting for inflation.
- The bill ends the direct payments program, which gave $5 billion a year to farmers, regardless of income. However, American Enterprise Institute (AEI) has reported that those savings could be entirely offset by two new crop insurance programs in the bill that could increase taxpayer costs by 18 percent.
- The bill cuts the food stamp program by $800 million annually — a 1 percent cut.
- It also does a number of other things, from allocating $10 million towards the purchase of peas, lentils, and chickpeas for school lunch programs to imposing a 15 cent Christmas tree tax.
- It also continues to fund the Market Access Program (MAP), which provides funds to companies and industries to advertise their products. CBS is reporting that Welch’s received almost $1 million to advertise grape juice overseas through this program, and that the Washington Apple Commission received $4.6 million in 2013 for advertising. In 2009, the California wine industry (despite $18 billion in sales) received $7 million through the MAP.
And while it’s called the farm bill, almost 80 percent of the spending is funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP — more commonly known as food stamps). House lawmakers had tried to stagger reauthorization for farm subsidies and SNAP spending so that, in future years, votes on the two programs would have to take place separately, but that attempt was unsuccessful.
Why have lawmakers continued to lump farm subsidies together with food stamps? Senator Thad Cochran has explained the rationale behind the mega bill quite bluntly: “[Food stamps] should continue to be included purely from a political perspective. It helps get the farm bill passed.”
Without food stamps in the bill, lawmakers might think twice before sending massive subsidies to farmers (who, Tanner points out, had a household income in 2011 that was 25 percent higher than average U.S. household income) and big corporations such as Tysons or Riceland Foods. But by tying these subsidies to SNAP benefits, lawmakers justify this massive transfer of wealth.
If a legislative proposal is a valid one, shouldn’t it be able to stand, and pass, on its own? If Washington feels the need to wrap otherwise impossible-to-pass legislation in a program like food stamps, it should raise a number of questions — and eyebrows — to say the least.