When bipartisanship is bad: Farm bill edition

Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute explains for National Review Online readers why it’s not always good for voters and taxpayers when members of Congress work across the aisle to craft a bipartisan piece of legislation.

… [W]e have finally had an outbreak of bipartisanship in Washington. Of course, bipartisanship means, as it usually does, that Democrats and Republicans have teamed up to mug taxpayers: An agreement has finally been reached on a new farm bill.

The farm bill will cost taxpayers about $950 billion over the next ten years. Lawmakers are calling this a $23 billion cut. But as Veronique de Rugy and my colleague Chris Edwards have pointed out, this is a cut only in the Washington sense of spending less than previously predicted. In reality, it represents an inflation-adjusted $258 billion increase over the ten-year cost of the last farm bill, in 2008. That’s a whopping 37 percent jump in real spending!

The largest part of this spending is not for farm programs but for food stamps. The bill provides approximately $756 billion in funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) through 2023. The media will certainly point out that this is roughly an $8 billion cut in such spending over ten years, but that represents just 1 percent of the program’s funding. Virtually all of the savings comes from eliminating the so-called LIHEAP loophole, under which some 17 states were able to leverage token (often as little as $1) fuel-assistance payments into higher food-stamp benefits. Any serious attempt to reform the program by, say, reinstating work requirements was dropped. Is it any wonder that the Department of Agriculture reports that a record 20 percent of American households now receive food stamps?

No doubt conservatives will complain about the food-stamp spending, but whatever one thinks about our ever-growing safety net, there is simply no excuse for the farm portion of the bill, which is pure corporate welfare.

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