Among the many pitfalls of zealous big-government spending is the glaring problem that any organized special interest, once thrown any kind of bone, is dependably reluctant to give it up. The many one-time deals, quick fixes, and temporary band-aids enacted by the federal government over the years have a nasty habit of sticking around long past their ostensibly intended expiration date, and untangling the resulting web becomes an increasingly daunting task as every individual regulation and program receives less and less scrutiny.

The Washington Post has lately been pretty consistent about railing on the absolute hot mess of waste, fraud, and free-market distortion that is the federal government’s involvement in the agriculture industry, and they have another piece out that details an apt example of just such a stubbornly lingering and pork-heavy program — and there are plenty more where that came from.

The money, it turns out, comes from one cockeyed farm-aid program that was supposed to end in 2003. It didn’t: Congress kept it alive and now hands out almost $5 billion a year using oddly relaxed rules. …

The program is one of Washington’s walking dead — “temporary” giveaway programs that have staggered on years beyond their intended expiration dates. Letting them live is an old and expensive congressional habit, still unbroken in this age of austerity. …

“It’s something that was supposed to die [that] has gotten an extra decade of life. So, do the math,” said Scott Faber of the Environmental Working Group, which has fought these subsidies for years. In all, the program has cost at least $46 billion more than it was supposed to. …

Recent analyses of the program have found that it subsidizes some people who aren’t really farming: the idle, the urban, and occasionally the dead.

The idle include recipients at 2,300 farms that haven’t grown crops at all for the past five years, and 622 that haven’t grown anything for 10, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Read on for the thrilling saga of how this particular program managed to cling to life and some members of the current Congress’s attempts to finally dismantle it, but the underlying gist of the story is that the direct taxpayer-to-government-to-farmer subsidization cycle has been going strong in marathon mode ever since farm subsidies really cottoned on around the 1930s. Stuff like this might might feel small in the entire scheme of the federal budget, but added up over the years, this kind of thing is costing us a fortune.