Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Let's give money to the really rich! As long as they're farmers.

That's what the new farm bill will do. And with bipartisan support too. As the Wall Street Journal describes, congressmen beat back an attempt to impose a ceiling on farm subsidies going to really rich farmers.
Money may not grow on trees, but it's close enough for some gentleman farmers. Late last week, the Senate killed an attempt to limit federal subsidies flowing to farmers in the country's top income brackets.

Under the amendment sponsored by Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar, eligible recipients of the government's largesse would have been capped at incomes of $750,000 per year. How draconian. That's not even halfway to the White House's proposal to end the subsidies at adjusted gross income of $200,000, a level Democrats often use to define the "rich." The amendment nonetheless went down by a revealing 48-47, well short of the 60 votes needed to defeat a filibuster.
Even those who might be thought to take a principled stand against giving handouts to rich farmers were against imposing a cap.
Naturally, Senators who voted to keep subsidies for the super-rich included those from the big cotton and rice states, such as Arkansas Democrats Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor. Kent Conrad, the populist "deficit hawk" from North Dakota, also joined a total of 12 Democrats in opposing limits on aid for big agribusiness. Even such vocal conservatives as Richard Burr (R., N.C.), Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) and Jim DeMint (R., S.C.) voted against capping the federal handout. Ditto for outgoing pork captain Trent Lott, and Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), among 35 Republicans all told.

The Senate then voted overwhelmingly to pass the farm bill, which will have to be reconciled with the House version, where the income cap is a mere $2 million. Farmers will reap around $20 billion this year in federal handouts -- despite strong crop prices and rising land values -- and two-thirds will go to the wealthiest 10% of farms. Politicians justify a more powerful government in the name of helping the poor, but the farm bill proves once again that in practice it typically serves the powerful.
How disappointing to see senators who crusade against pork like Coburn and DeMint surrendering when it's pork for their constituents. Try explaining to consumers why we need to shovel federal handouts to the wealthiest farm-owners.