Farm Bill Follies

Here is a detailed summary of the policies and politics of the Farm Bill that passed Congress last week.

Details of the 800-page bill were kept under wraps until last Monday night. The reason might have been that, in the words of House Agricultural Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (MN-07), “There’s a concern on some of the members’ part that when people find out what’s in the bill, it will start unraveling.”

Looking at the details of the bill, it is clear why it would start unraveling when people find out what’s in it. Not only does the bill not include the Grassley Amendment giving subsidies to non-farmers, it allows cousins, nieces, and nephews of farmers who participate in farm management — which could mean participating in a conference call — to receive federal government subsidies.

The bill allows farmers to change which “shallow loss” programs they will participate in each year instead of sticking with one program for five years. This may allow them to game the system by choosing whichever one will give them the larger amount of taxpayer subsidies.

Shallow loss programs compensate farmers if their revenue dips below the average of the last five years.

It also increases the subsidized loan rate to 15%, and the Department of Agriculture’s direct loan rate is doubled to $600,000.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the bill is expected to cost as much as $867 billion over the next ten years. However, the true costs of the bill are much larger because the CBO did not account for “the additional discretionary spending that would result from implementing the farm bill conference.”

In fact, the Senate voted on the bill before the CBO score was released. The bill was rushed to the floor Tuesday afternoon. The Senate leadership got unanimous consent immediately after the notice was sent out that the bill would be voted on so no senator has a chance to object.

So, the Senate votes on an 800-page bill that was made available the night before the vote and had not yet been scored by the CBO, so they did not have a real idea of the bill’s costs. The bill passed the Senate 87-13. Here are the 13 Senators (all Republicans) who voted no:

John Barrasso (WY)
Tom Cotton (AR)
Mike Enzi (WY)
Jeff Flake (AZ)
Chuck Grassley (IA)
Ron Johnson (WI)
John Kennedy (LA)
John Kyl (AZ)
Mike Lee (UT)
Lisa Murkowski (AK)
Rand Paul (KY)
Marco Rubio (FL)
Pat Toomey (PA)

The House did have access to the CBO score, but the score was available less than 24 hours before the vote. The vote complied with the letter but not the spirit of the three-day-rule, which is supposed to give representatives time to read and understand a bill. Does anyone think the average representative, or their staff, was able to study the whole 800-page bill between Monday night and Wednesday afternoon?

The bill passed the House 368-47.

Here is the roll-call vote.

As if this process wasn’t infuriating enough, the rule for the Farm Bill was also the vehicle to pass the language stating the House would not vote to end U.S involvement in Yemen.

So, I guess they got the bill through before support began to unravel.

So, one of the last acts of the Republican-controlled Congress is a bill that expands the federal role in agriculture, raises consumer prices, further increases federal spending and debt, all for the benefit of largely well good landowners and their relatives, many of whom don’t actually farm.

Here is a good op-ed on the bill from Chris Edwards of CATO.

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