Ugh: Senate approves farm bill, onward to Obama for signing

We knew this calamity was coming, but I suppose I should make a note of it — if only to once again highlight the mind-numbing amount of corporate pork and top-down market manipulation that Congress just united to preserve with a casual $1 trillion legislative leviathan with more special-interest carve-outs than you can shake a stick at. Because, bipartisanship. Oh, rapture!

The Senate on Tuesday passed the long-awaited farm bill, ending two years of partisan rancor and stalled negotiations and clearing what is expected to be the last hurdle for the nearly $1 trillion spending measure.

The bill was passed with strong bipartisan support, 68 to 32. The legislation now heads to the desk of President Obama, who is expected to sign it.

“Many people said this would never happen in this environment, but Congress has come together to pass a major bipartisan jobs bill,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan and chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “This effort proves that by working across party lines, we can save taxpayer money and create smart policies that lay the foundation for a stronger economy.”

Three years of “haggling” and “delays,” as the headlines are putting it, and for what? For a “landmark rewrite of commodity programs” that actually is only coming in exchange for crop-insurance subsidies that could end up costing more than their purported savings?

The current farm bill was supposed to save money. Its backers in Congress are touting the fact that the legislation cuts $16.5 billion from the deficit over the next decade, compared with simply extending previous law.

But that’s a relatively small trim compared with other proposals. In its 2014 budget, for instance, the White House had asked for farm legislation that would have saved twice as much, $38 billion — mainly by slashing payouts to farmers.

What’s more, as Ryan Alexander of Taxpayers for Common Sense laments, no one’s sure that those projected savings will even materialize: The Congressional Budget Office estimates that two-thirds of the deficit reduction won’t happen until after 2019 — after this bill expires — and that depends on economic assumptions that may not pan out. About the only guaranteed cut here is the $8.4 billion snip to food stamps.

And that $8.4 billion snip to food stamps? That’s over ten years, which amounts to just about one percent of the program’s total budget. SNAP’s budget has more than doubled since 2008, partially because of what Obama assured us were his economic “stimulus” efforts back in 2009; the White House and the Democrats are now fervently insisting that the economy has been steadily ‘recovering’ throughout Obama’s tenure, but for some odd reason, anything other than a total preservation of these heightened SNAP spending levels is a travesty against humanity and a sure sign that Republicans loathe poor people. I’m so confused.

Anyway. President Obama will seal the deal on Friday, taking the opportunity to offer what I’m sure will be some very delightful remarks about how the legislation will “reduce our deficits” (no, not really at all), “provide assistance for farmers when they need it most” (read: wealthy corporate agribusiness and their well-organized lobbies), and “spur the development of renewable energy” (because we evidently don’t provide biofuels producers with enough avenues for rent-seeking already). Sweet.

President Obama will travel to East Lansing, Mich., on Friday to sign the farm bill, the White House announced.

“Obama will deliver remarks at Michigan State University on the importance of the Farm Bill to America’s economy,” the White House said in a statement. …

“This bill provides certainty to America’s farmers and ranchers, and contains a variety of commonsense reforms that my Administration has consistently called for, including reforming and eliminating direct farm subsidies and providing assistance for farmers when they need it most,” said Obama.

“It will continue reducing our deficits without gutting the vital assistance programs millions of hardworking Americans count on to help put food on the table for their families,” he added. “And it will support conservation of valuable lands, spur the development of renewable energy, and incentivize healthier nutrition for all Americans.”