Why, Heritage, You’ve Quite Stolen My Heart

Such a fine bit of ranting about the appalling farm bill that the House GOP just passed:

House Republicans passed a farm bill today with a vote of 216 to 208. When the House leadership first announced it would separately consider the food stamp and farm components of the “farm” bill, it looked like they got the message that current farm policy was in dire need of reform. With separation, real reform to rein in market-distorting programs and special interest handouts could finally happen. But now that separation has occurred, they’ve forgotten the very reason why separation was needed in the first place.

Supporters of this farm-only farm bill wasted the golden opportunity that separation could have provided: the ability to promote policies that benefit taxpayers, farmers, and consumers in a fiscally responsible way. With the passage of this bill, the House has gone even further to the left than the Senate bill. It would spend more money than Obama on the largest farm program, crop insurance.

On top of all this, the process House Republicans used to get this 600-plus-page bill to the floor in a mere 10 hours essentially violates their own promise to conduct business in an open and transparent manner. They prohibited legislators from introducing amendments. And, they played a game of bait and switch by claiming this bill was the same text from the failed House farm bill of a few weeks ago.

I hardly know what to say about this monstrosity.  So I’ll just quote PJ O’Rourke: “Farm policy, although it’s complex, can be explained. What it can’t be is believed. No cheating spouse, no teen with a wrecked family car, no mayor of Washington, DC, videotaped in flagrante delicto has ever come up with anything as farfetched as U.S. farm policy.”

He wrote that in 1990.  Almost 25 years later, it sounds as fresh as if he were blogging it from the Starbucks at 1st and E Street NW.  Which itself basically tells you everything that you need to know about our agricultural policy.

28 thoughts on “Why, Heritage, You’ve Quite Stolen My Heart

  1. Well, fresh except for the reference to the mayor of Washington, who seems like one of the more competent and less scandal-prone politicians out there today.

  2. One of the annoying things about debating politics with family is that too many of them are farmers, and they think this sort of thing is good policy. It makes me want to smack them, repeatedly.

  3. So is this primarily a matter of “Stupid Party,” of special-interest capture, of simple bribery, or something else that doesn’t immediately occur to me?

    • It’s not that it’s good policy, it’s that it’s longstanding policy, such that all farmers small and large have made long-term plans around it, much like homeowners have made long-term plans around the mortgage interest deduction. Even phasing it out does real harm to regular people who are rationally participating in the system that exists. You can’t blame them for that, since the alternative is being out of the farming business. But you should think about it whenever government comes up with a scheme that involves creating a similar kind of dependency.

  4. Actually, if it survives conference committee (doubtful at best) this Farm Bill could be remembered as the death blow to traditional farm policy. Republican leadership inserted a critical poison pill which repeals the original farm legislation. Ag Committee Chairmen have used the threat of revision to original legislation to force passage of farm bills tor close to 40 years. If this bill passes, they lose that ability. When this bill expires in 5 years, there will be zero incentive to replace it and not treat of revision to original legislation left to force a new one through. Consequently, this could be the most fiscally responsible farm bill ever passed because it is deliberately designed to be the last one ever passed. Which is why the AG lobby and Heritage will pull out all the stops in the Senate to kill the House version.

    • This is a fascinating possibility, but it does assume that the Farm Bureau hasn’t noticed the non-reversion feature.

  5. I see nothing wrong with eliminating food stamps. As long as we disarm the poor first.

    Unless the Republicans are trying to spark a socialist revolution.

    • Yeah, when they can’t buy their cartons of cigarettes with EBT cards, they’ll be mighty pissed off.

    • We could do the Milton Friedman thing– Eliminate food stamps, give cash instead, and let them learn to budget. Food stamps can’t fix your roof or get you reliable transportation to work.

      But then a lot of bureaucrats who hate people would be out of work and have to get jobs where they were POLITE to the customers.

      (Applied for Medicaid once when we lost insurance during my 8th month of pregnancy. It would have shocked DANTE, the process was so horrible. And then it took 3 months to find out if we were accepted or rejected. Fortunately, our insurance was restored in the same time period (weird legal story.) and so we didn’t care when the rejection came 3 months later because they weren’t convinced that my husband, who’d shared an address with me for a decade, was actually a member of my household. )

      Cash would be cheaper and easier.

    • I don’t know if cash is the best thing. EBT cards are so easy to abuse, and there’s every incentive for retailers to take the money for anything they can sell. So we have an almost-cash system now.

      Furthermore, money is fungible, so if you use the EBT card to buy food, you have more cash left over for cheap booze and cigarettes. Ask someone who has actually worked as a cashier in a poor neighborhood. An ex-girlfriend of mine was a bleeding-heart liberal with little sense of fiscal responsibility, and even she thought the system should be thrown out because it was so screwed up and full of perverse incentives.

      If we want to make sure people don’t starve, we can have Federal food banks. Sure, there’s some of the same possibility for abuse, but at least we know that our money is actually providing food for children we don’t want to starve, not buying smokes for their parents. And responsible people who are actually down on their luck — as opposed to poor people who are simply poor because they are irresponsible — would know that, if it came to that, they could go get some basic food.

      The food stamp system (whatever the latest incarnation is called) ought to be thrown out, because it’s a bad system.

    • Wait…you are saying they are literally going to starve with a small cut in food stamps, but they somehow managed to purchase fireams? Next thing you will tell me they have big screen TVs and cable, too!

      Also, they will not have a socialist revolution – armed robbery is not socialism per se.

  6. Unless the House GOPs insert some mention of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerperson into the bill, they’ll never get any worthwhile attention on the issue.

  7. Having grown up in Iowa, I’ve noticed that the American Farm Bureau is one of the most effective lobbies in the US. I’m saddened but hardly surprised that their boodle remains alive.

  8. It would be interesting to see a rundown of what benefits farmers get in this kind of pork versus what EPA (and similar) meddling costs them. I have several cousins that farm, and one of them once told me that if the feds stopped their meddling and also cut off all benefits to farmers at the same time, it’s a bargain he would take. Just think of what the savings would be if we could eliminate the entire federal farm bureaucracy and a giant chunk of the EPA. Won’t happen as long as there are still people dumb enough to buy treasuries (or as long as the Fed keeps buying them). But a guy can wonder.

  9. Ok, so the farm bill has a few flaws. Just wait for the immigration bill and you’ll be begging for something as good as the farm bill.

  10. The Farm bill is not about real farmers as much as it’s about channeling Big Money to multi-national agricultural corporations and other politically connected interests.

  11. Good post. There is still a lot of leftism in the GOP. That’s why Huckabee has a following and may be the nominee.

  12. One problem with farm subsidies is that most people like the idea of food stability and low cost food. They view it as “common sense.” (I’m riffing from Myth of the Rational Voter here.) Thus farm subsidies for farmers and food stamps for urban consumers.

    You also see this even in food surplus countries where exports are sometimes banned so there will be “enough” for the citizenry.

    I bet they poll well even in cities.

    • I heard a Congresswoman throwing a hissy-fit on NPR yesterday morning at the decision to split the Farm Bill into the actual agriculture part and the SNAP part. Didn’t catch who it was, because I was up at the computer and only half-listening, but my guess would be Sheila Jackson Lee.

      The idea is that the Farm Bill is invulnerable, and taking SNAP out of it makes SNAP vulnerable. Well, maybe it ought to be.

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