While the issue of the latest iteration of the “farm bill” still waiting to make its way out of the halls of Congress has been largely absent from national headlines (the government shutdown and debt-ceiling fight, of course, absorbing most of the political oxygen), there are plenty of local and regional news outlets across the country just littered with updates on every twist and turn of the legislative process and the bill’s (and bills’) in-limbo status. The provisions of the current farm bill expired on the first of the month, and while the majority of the traditional legislative package is concerned with the federal food stamp program, the geographical devotion to the topic is a testament of just how much skin the agricultural sector has in the game.
Heritage has a handy breakdown of the differences between the farm bill passes by the Senate and then the two decoupled agriculture and food stamps bills passed by the House, and provides a helpful indication of precisely why that might be in their introduction:
Congress continues to treat agriculture as if it were 1933 instead of 2013. Agriculture is a cutting-edge sector of the economy that continues to innovate and produce more food with fewer resources.
Yet, every five years when the farm bill is up for renewal, many legislators, including those who claim to be pro–free market and limited government, push a farm bill that is a model of central planning. Agriculture policy continues to emphasize price supports, supply restrictions, import quotas, government-subsidized international marketing programs for major corporations, and much more. Quite simply, almost any subsidy that can be dreamed of exists in one form or another in the current farm bill.
The farm bill should not be a “holiday” for legislators from free market and limited government principles. Through sound free market reforms, farmers will benefit by having government out of their way so they can have the freedom to make decisions based on market conditions. They will be able to use their land as they see fit and not be harmed by government incentives and controls. Consumers will have choices that best reflect demand and enjoy prices that reflect open competition, not artificial constraints on supply.
Anyhow. Last week, the House moved another step closer to getting their bills into conference, and even amidst the shutdown, the issue hasn’t been forgotten — there are way too many highly vested special interests in this thing to allow that to happen. Politico explains:
Rice is big for Arkansas where the farm bill is already an issue between Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor and his Republican challenger, Rep. Tom Cotton, in the 2014 election. Peanuts are a cash crop important to Georgia and its Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss — Speaker John Boehner’s old pal and a veteran deal maker who came up through agriculture in his early years in the House.
And barley? Well, barley is literally its own political brew: selling for animal feed at one price but also capable of earning as much as one-third higher when “malted” — an important ingredient for beer. Northwest Minnesota is barley country and home to Rep. Collin Peterson, the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee and driving force now behind plans to almost double the barley target price in support of the richer malted market.
All this history is again relevant this week as the House-Senate farm bill talks begin to heat up — with Boehner saying privately that he will finally appoint House conferees.
Sigh. Let the relentless rent-seeking and lobbying begin anew.