Earlier this month, the House Agricultural Committee passed its version of the Farm Bill with a 35-11 vote. It was greatly anticipated, as the country needs a fair and common sense bill that cut wasteful spending. In years past, the Farm Bill has given out tens of billions in taxpayer dollars to large, mature agribusinesses, and subsidized commodity crops that are often processed into the junk food ingredients fueling the obesity epidemic. Between 1995 and 2010 we gave out $260 billion in agricultural subsidies to the country’s largest farming operations. With the expiration of the present Farm Bill coming in September, Congress has an opportunity to end this wasteful corporate welfare.
However, when the Senate acted last month, they failed to deliver reform. Instead, they played a shell game with taxpayer dollars, ending one egregious subsidy while creating a new one that could cost the public $30 billion or more over the next decade. At the end of the day, under the Senate bill subsidies would continue to benefit the largest agribusinesses, with the lion’s share of dollars flowing to corn and soy.
We were hoping that the U.S. House of Representatives with its fresh crop of fiscal conservatives would deliver a bill that cut these wasteful payouts. Instead the House Farm Bill parallels the Senate Farm Bill. It eliminates the Direct Payments Program that would have saved us a cool $45 billion, but takes two steps back by introducing costly new programs and doubling down on many existing subsidies.
House Members have said that one of their priorities is reducing the deficit. Yet instead of looking hard at the farm bill and making cuts that make sense, the Agricultural Committee has prioritized protecting Big Ag and made cuts to the Food Stamps program instead. If you’re in a household of three and make more than about $24,000 a year, you’re too prosperous to qualify for food stamps – however, an agribusiness earning up to $950,000 still qualifies for farm payments.
The farm bill is making consumer groups, faith based groups, poverty groups, conservative and taxpayer groups, social justice groups and small rural farmers justifiably hopping mad. The obvious place to seek savings is within the Commodity Programs. At a time of high deficits and significant cuts to important public interest priorities, it is unjustifiable to continue sending billions of taxpayer dollars to large agribusinesses who don’t need the assistance. It’s ridiculous that when cuts are on the table, the Ag Committee’s priority was protecting handouts to giant agribusinesses who don’t need the help.
Co-written with Nasima Hossain, Arizona PIRG Federal Public Health Advocate.