Tuesday | December 06, 2016
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Farm programs need reform

Recently, the U.S. House of Representatives, often mocked for being a do-nothing chamber, did something. It rejected the nearly $1 trillion farm bill, sending waves of surprise through Washington, D.C. By rejecting the farm bill, House members sent a message to leaders in both parties that reform-minded legislators still have sway. The lawmakers expressed a healthy wish to reform farm subsidies and get the food stamp program back under control.

These lawmakers, like their constituents, are tired of the annual scramble to fill the farm bill with goodies for various segments of the farming industry, from large corporations to rich, so-called farmers who own land but have other careers. More than 60 Republicans joined with most Democrats to shoot down the bill.

The bill had been supported by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and his leadership team — but a number of Republicans from rural, farm-rich districts voted against the $940 billion measure.

The farm bill is usually tied to the food stamp budget. The food stamp budget for the defeated farm bill was $740 billion over 10 years. A chance to separate the food stamp portion from the agricultural subsidies and price controls was defeated in the House. That was a mistake.

The food stamp program is growing too fast. Four years after the Great Recession ended, the program pays out to one in seven Americans. And tying the food stamp program to the farm bill no longer makes sense, except to make sure both items cannot be reformed separately.

Reformers need to take aim at price supports and direct payments to farmers. Sugar and milk, for example, have their prices propped up by federal subsidies.

But the markets for sugar and milk would not collapse if price supports were withdrawn. The farm bill is so large and unwieldy, it even tries to set olive oil prices. Why?

Agriculture subsidies don’t make much sense anymore. The family farms that received such support in the past are becoming a smaller and smaller part of the economy. Many farmers have higher-than-average incomes.

Large corporations such as Archer Daniels Midland Co. control a large portion of the farming business now. Congress needs to stop giving taxpayer money to large corporations and sharply limit the focus of the farm bill.

For now, such wasteful spending will continue because Congress and the White House cannot agree on a budget. But the House sent a message: It will no longer just say yes to needless subsidies, price supports and a ballooning food stamp program. That’s good news for taxpayers and the marketplace.

— From the New Bern Sun Journal


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