Farm bill foibles

In a development that P.J. O’Rourke could have predicted, the farm bill that’s oozing out of congressional debate and negotiation is likely to benefit special interests while doing little for the average taxpayer forced to foot the bill. Bloomberg Businessweek offers details.

On Jan. 27, House and Senate leaders announced what just a few months ago seemed impossible—a deal on a five-year, almost half-trillion-dollar farm bill. The legislation had languished for more than a year as Democrats and Republicans haggled over food stamps and crop subsidies. Two things broke the impasse: an unusual urban-rural alliance that hung together to preserve threatened programs; and lots (and lots) of money from lobbyists. …

… “The great thing the ag coalition did was include inner-city and suburban food stamp recipients in addition to the more conservative farmers,” says Steve Bell, a former top Republican Senate budget aide and now senior director of economic policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington. “The combination of strong Republican advocates and Democratic food stamp advocates is unbeatable.” If the bill is signed into law (which seems likely by early February), it will conclude one of the toughest spending fights in almost two decades.

In all, groups pressing for the bill spent $150 million on lobbying in 2013, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political spending. At least 350 companies and organizations, including Monsanto (MON), PepsiCo (PEP), and Dean Foods (DF), hired lobbyists in 2013 to work on the Senate’s farm bill. Only debates over the federal budget, immigration, and defense spending attracted more lobbying muscle, according to the center.

It was quickly apparent who got at least some of what they wanted and who didn’t. The American Soybean Association praised the bill as being in the “best interests” of growers, who will benefit from federal crop insurance. Kroger (KR), the largest U.S. grocery store chain, is “pleased that there appears to be growing, bipartisan support,” says spokesman Keith Dailey. That makes sense, because most food stamps, which were cut by less than originally proposed, are spent in big-box supercenters such as Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) and in major supermarkets including Safeway (SWY) and Kroger.

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