NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 22, 2008

President Bush vetoed the $300 billion farm bill yesterday and a bipartisan throng in the House promptly voted to override.  The Senate is expected to follow shortly.  Every one of these Congressional worthies purports to be an advocate of "change," says the Wall Street Journal.

Yet you couldn't write a piece of legislation that more thoroughly represents the Beltway status quo than this one.  In every way imaginable, and even a few more, it repeats and compounds the spendthrift errors of previous farm bills, says the Journal:

  • Since the last farm bill in 2002, the price of cotton is up 105 percent, soybeans 164 percent, corn 169 percent and wheat 256 percent.
  • Yet when President Bush proposed the genuine change of limiting farm welfare to those earning less than $200,000 a year, he was laughed out of town.
  • The bill purports to limit subsidies to those earning a mere $750,000, but loopholes and spousal qualifications make it closer to $2.5 million.

Another purported change is the arrival of "fiscal discipline."  Yet it turns out this farm extravaganza may bust federal budget targets even more than we thought a week ago.  That's because the new price supports -- the guaranteed floor payments farmers receive for their crops -- have been raised to match this year's record prices, says the Journal.

The United States Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) reports that if crop prices fall from these highs to their norm over the next five years, farm payments will surge.  For example:

  • If corn prices return to $3.25 a bushel from today's $6, farmers would get $10 billion a year in support payments.
  • If bean prices fall to their norm, they'd get $4 billion.
  • Thus, if farm prices stay high, consumers face higher grocery bills and farmers get rich.
  • If farm prices fall, taxpayers kick in the difference and farmers still get rich.

Source: Editorial, "Change You Can't Believe In," Wall Street Journal, May 22, 2008.

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