Imagine the taxpayers bailed out the U.S. auto industry in 2008 at a cost of $62 billion. Oh, wait, we did that.
Then imagine we did it again in 2009, and 2010, and every year after that, with every expectation that we'd do it again every year forever. Even the staunchest believers in federal stimulus might start to get a little worried about whether it was ever going to end.
Imagine the U.S. Senate just approved a bill that will spend about $95 billion a year on farm and nutrition programs for the next 10 years, basically continuing a policy that goes back to 1933. Oh, wait, they did that. And those who carried the bill through the process are patting each other on the back for all the "reforms" that the measure contains.
Utah's Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee voted against final passage of the bill. Whatever their individual reasons, they were right not to be taken in by the idea that the bill amounts to any major reform.
The bill does shift much of the federal support for farming away from direct payments, those big checks written to bigger farmers whether they grow anything or not, and toward a more defensible preference for crop insurance.
Unfortunately, subsidies for those insurance policies, which pay farmers in case of either weather- or pest-related crop failure or a collapse of market prices, are going to mostly benefit the same massive agribusiness operations that cashed all those subsidy checks over the years. Those companies are not only quite profitable, thank you, but also to blame for the biologically and environmentally destructive trend toward millions of acres of genetically uniform, heavily fertilized and pesticide-drenched crops.
Real reform, like favoring biological diversity or rewarding farmers for more environmentally sensitive practices, get short shrift in this bill.
What's really cut? Well, really, 80 perent of the money in this and every farm bill for the last several decades has been for food stamps and other such nutrition programs. And that's what's being "reformed" here, to the tune of a $4 billion cut over 10 years. The House version of the same bill, yet to pass that chamber, would cut that spending by $20.5 billion over the same period.
So again, in the name of providing American households with a steady supply of affordable food, Congress is well on its way to passing another package that transfers billions from the pockets of Americans into the accounts of agribusiness giants and gentleman farmers, even as it disdains the humanitarian and economic benefits of programs that help poor families put some of that food on their tables.