Commentary

New Farm Bill a Nightmare for Conservatives, Would Expand Waste and Likely Trigger More Subsidies

By Daren Bakst | December 3, 2018 | 8:41am EST
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We’re in the holiday season, but that doesn’t mean conservative legislators should take a holiday from their conservative principles. Unfortunately, the farm bill devised by House and Senate negotiators would require them to do just that.

Farm bills past have repeatedly disappointed those who believe in free markets, reduced dependency on government, and individual freedom. This latest farm bill, according to published reports, would be the worst in recent memory. It doesn’t just ignore these core principles—it flouts them.

Earlier this year, many House legislators fought to strengthen work requirements in the food stamp program. They carried the day in the lower chamber, but the negotiated farm bill would throw out these improvements, which have proven to reduce dependency on government.

It is difficult to understand how those lawmakers could bring themselves to support a negotiated farm bill lacking those provisions.

And there’s much more not to like in the negotiated bill. It doesn’t just fail to reform farm subsidies; it would make the out-of-control subsidy system worse. Indeed, it would expand waste and likely trigger more subsidies, not fewer of them. For example, it would expand the loophole allowing subsidies to go to people who by any reasonable definition are not farmers.

As usual, a small number of legislators developed this bill behind closed doors, pushing policies that will funnel as much money as possible to big agricultural special interests. The rest of Congress, and certainly conservative legislators, need to push back against this cronyism.

It shouldn’t be taboo to want to reduce waste and abuse in farm subsidy programs. That’s not anti-farmer; it’s just sound, commonsense policy.

Lawmakers should bear in mind that the farm bill isn’t just meant to help farmers; it’s also supposed to implement agricultural policy that benefits all Americans.

Lawmakers should be fighting for the taxpayers who currently spend about $15 billion a year just on farm “safety net” programs. They should be fighting for consumers who are forced to pay more for food because of subsidy programs like the sugar program. They should be fighting for those who want to become farmers but can’t because of the subsidies that create insurmountable barriers by driving up land prices.

The rush to get this disaster of a bill passed this year is perplexing. There is another option. Like it did with the last farm bill, Congress could pass a one-year extension of the current law. Food stamps would exist even without an extension, and farmers would still retain their existing subsidy programs.

An extension is precisely what Congress should do. Locking in bad policy for five years is bad enough. Locking in policy that is antithetical to free-market principles is indefensible.

Daren Bakst studies and writes about agriculture subsidies, property rights, environmental policy, food labeling and related issues as The Heritage Foundation’s senior research fellow in agricultural policy. Read his research.

Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by The Daily Signal.

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