Politico offers Republicans six ways that they can save the GOP, but yesterday provided them at least one concrete opportunity that they squandered. The House passed the latest farm bill with a veto-proof majority, bloating the budget with subsidies during a period where crops receive record prices. Instead of trimming fat from the budget, House Republicans joined Democrats in feeding special interests:

The House yesterday passed a final version of a new five-year farm bill by a vote of 318 to 106, a margin large enough to override President Bush‘s promised veto of the nearly $300 billion measure.

The bipartisan show of support came after intense lobbying by a coalition that included farm groups, anti-hunger advocates, environmental organizations and the biofuels industry. While continuing traditional farm subsidy programs, the bill increases spending on nutrition programs such as food stamps by $10.4 billion.

Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer released a statement saying the vote “sends the wrong message to the rest of the country who are not experiencing the boom of the agriculture sector,” and, “This bill is loaded with taxpayer funded pet projects at a time when Americans are struggling to buy groceries and afford gas to get to work.”

The Heritage Foundation’s Brian Riedl assessed the legislation on Monday, listing seven reasons for Bush to veto the bill. First and foremost, the subsidy program exists far beyond its intended purpose. Like many New Deal programs, FDR didn’t intend on making subsidies permanent, and he certainly didn’t intend on turning them into corporate welfare programs. Today, that’s exactly what these programs are. The majority of subsidies go to commercial farms, not family farms, and the average income from a subsidy-receiving farm is $200,000 — an income which Barack Obama considers “wealthy” for tax purposes.

Price supports make some sense for food security when prices are low, but that’s hardly the case now. Thanks in large part to subsidies for ethanol production, food prices have skyrocketed over the last few years. The market distortion has created hunger worldwide while robbing American taxpayers. Thanks to subsidies, Americans pay twice for foolish policy — once with the IRS, and a second time at the store with higher food prices. Small wonder, then, that the average household income for farmers has risen to almost $90,000 and that land values have doubled in the last eight years.

Do subsidies have any place at all at the federal level? I’d argue no, but at the least, we should stop subsidizing commercial farms and let the marketplace dictate prices, using subsidies sparingly to support independent farmers. We have to stop using corn and other foods for ethanol. We should use food to feed people and animals and not our cars. Our inability to deal maturely with our energy requirements has created food shortages and inflation where we can least afford it.

Republicans took control of Congress in 1994 by promising to revamp government and reduce it at the federal level, allowing for lower taxes, lower costs, and sensible policies. If they want to rebuild their credibility, they have to differentiate themselves by not just ending their own habits of feeding at special-interest troughs, but eliminating the troughs altogether. The continued federal intervention in markets continues with full GOP participation, and until that stops, voters will rightly see very little difference between Democrats and Republicans.