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EDITORIAL: Down on the farm: Sidling up to the trough

The Biden saga has roiled Democrats and gripped the Beltway, but Congress marches on doing what it does best: wasting other people’s money. Consider the ongoing stalemate involving the $1.5 trillion farm bill.

House Republicans have passed an update to the 2018 farm bill that scales back food assistance programs while expanding subsidies to agricultural producers. Democrats control the Senate and prefer a version that does the opposite. The two sides are not close to a compromise, so they may put off action until after the election, The Washington Post reports. The current bill — already extended a year — is set to expire Sept. 30.

Unfortunately, there’s precious little debate among either Democrats or Republicans about crafting an omnibus agriculture package with an eye toward eliminating waste, reining in handouts and promoting self-sufficiency. In fact, the farm bill is a microcosm of the congressional profligacy that has led to soaring deficits and a $34 trillion national debt that threatens the nation’s financial solvency.

According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, the 2018 farm bill will run a half a trillion dollars over budget. Yet Congress appears poised to simply roll it over again rather than dig into the details on behalf of the American taxpayer.

“Group after group of farm lobbyists instead has its handout,” the watchdog group reports, “asking Congress for a laundry list of ways to increase federal spending and government involvement in certain commodity crop markets.”

In addition, Democrats insist on retaining looser — and costly — pandemic-era eligibility requirements for food assistance programs.

A fiscally prudent approach would encourage both farmers and able-bodied welfare recipients to wean themselves off the taxpayer handouts.

“Last year, U.S. net farm income set a new record,” Taxpayers for Common Sense notes. “Meanwhile, government payments to agriculture reached their highest level in 2020, making up nearly half of farm income. While some agricultural producers rely heavily on government subsidies each year, other farmers successfully grow their businesses with little to no subsidies at all.”

Indeed, why do producers of corn, soybeans, wheat, rice or peanuts merit a government check when prices fall, while farmers dealing in fruits, most vegetables or livestock receive no such largess?

Farm subsidies date to the 1930s, when collectivism and central planning dominated congressional and presidential policymaking. Republicans have, with varying degrees of success, made efforts in the past to curtail handouts to various farm interests. If they truly want to distinguish themselves from the free-spending Democrats, they should revive that approach as the current farm bill debate progresses.

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