EDITORIAL: Another farm bill fiasco

Prudent tax policy must be an integral part of any effort to stabilize the federal government’s hemorrhaging balance sheet. But so should spending restraint. If congressional Republicans succeed in passing their tax reform package, they must turn their attention to the latter.

One place to start would be the Department of Agriculture.

Taxpayers were assured that the 2014 Farm Bill would save money by eliminating certain direct subsidies to farmers. But it turns out the new approach — showering cash on agricultural producers whenever the prices of various commodities drop below a set level — has proven far more costly.

The Environmental Working Group, which for years has railed against wasteful agricultural spending, reports that the federal government doled out $8.8 billion last year on commodity subsidies, twice what the 2014 Farm Bill estimated.

As Reason magazine points out, “the bulk of these billions are going not to small family farms but to the biggest, most prosperous agribusinesses.” In fact, the magazine reveals, “the top 1 percent of subsidy recipients were getting a minimum of $116,501 payout while the median recipient was receiving only $2,479.”

The farm bill has undergone periodic overhauls in recent decades, but it remains a relic of the 1930s and a wasteful vehicle for handouts and corporate welfare. The market distortions inherent in such policies undermine innovation and breed dependence.

Congress will debate a new farm bill next year. If Republicans are looking to show voters they’re actually serious about getting spending under control, here’s their chance.

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