EDITORIAL: The GOP’s farm bill mess

The federal farm bill currently working its way through Congress is an outdated relic and a wasteful vehicle for corporate welfare and handouts paid to many of the nation’s wealthiest farmers. While the Obama administration took baby steps to limit taxpayer-funded subsidies to rich farmers, congressional Republicans are now reportedly moving to roll back those reforms and make an already bad policy even worse.

As Baylen Linnekin recently outlined at Reason.com, the Obama-era subsidy caps on rich farmers were a tiny step toward many, much-needed agricultural reforms — virtually all of which involve Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture giving away less of our money. But if Republicans in Congress pass a farm bill without those caps, they would “confirm almost all of what critics of both Washington lawmakers and farm subsidies have long contended: They are unnecessary, embarrassing, shambolic, shameless, ossified, counterproductive, abominable and grotesque,” Mr. Linnekin observes.

News of Congress’s plan to push through a regressive, bloated farm bill came mere days before a scathing new report from the Environmental Working Group showing that tens of thousands of Americans took home billions of dollars in annual farm subsidies (or other taxpayer-funded payments) for more than 30 years.

Studying USDA data from 1985 to 2016, the group found that upward of 28,000 farmers received more than $19 billion — or an average of $675,000 per farmer — in taxpayer subsidies.

Mr. Linnekin reveals that the handouts have typically benefited “larger farmers who farm just a handful of crops” and simply don’t need them. The list of recipients includes millionaires and billionaires. Mr. Linnekin notes that Paul Allen, Charles Schwab, Jon Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen and Scottie Pippen have all received subsidies in the past, as have members of Congress.

According to a 2006 Arkansas Leader report cited by Mr. Linnekin, the family farm owned by former Rep. Marion Berry, D-Ark., was able to rake in nearly $100,000 per year in subsidies during the nine years he was in Washington. Mr. Linnekin also referenced a Politico report showing that former Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., took in $251,000 in farm payments between 1995 and 2006 while at the same time speaking out against wasteful government programs.

Farm subsidies direct billions of taxpayer dollars to those who don’t need them, disrupt the marketplace, stunt innovation, block competition, create dependence on taxpayer dollars and drive up consumer prices.

American farm policy is a Depression-era collectivist relic. Short of blowing up the whole farm bill, the goal should be for Congress to craft a measure that weans farmers off taxpayer handouts.

If Congress ever gets serious about getting rid of government waste, the Department of Agriculture would be among the most vulnerable targets in a very target-rich environment.

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