Question of the week: This U.S. Senate is considering a controversial farm bill that would renew massive agriculture subsidies and address eligibility issues related to food stamps. What should Congress do to improve the farm bill in order to make it more productive for Americans and less burdensome for taxpayers?
Editor of the Free Press opinion page
America's farm policy is based on a set of very un-American notions, including: Bureaucrats, rather than the marketplace, should dictate what farmers grow; taxpayers should bear the risks related to farmers' business choices; and the government, not compassionate individuals, charities and religious organizations, should provide food to the needy.
Farming would thrive even without government subsidies and outlandish federal insurance programs that coerce farmers into producing goods that aren't in the greatest demand in locations that make no sense. As it is, taxpayers and consumers pay higher prices because crop and livestock production is unnecessarily subsidized and then subject to price controls that inflate Americans' grocery bills.
Further, since 2000, food stamp outlays have spiked from $24.2 billion to $82.9 billion in constant dollars. That matters because food stamps and other nutritional programs make up about 80 percent of the Farm Bill's cost. Food stamps have been shoved in the same bill as farm subsidies so that liberal food stamp supporters can trade conservative rural lawmakers more farm subsidies in exchange for greater food stamp spending -- an example of government at its worst.
Federal lawmakers should reject any Farm Bill that doesn't include steps toward a fundamental overhaul. Such overhaul should include allowing farming to be driven by market forces rather than bureaucratic whims, separating agriculture policy from food stamp funding, and empowering charities -- and reducing government's role -- in feeding the needy.
- The Free Press
Executive vice president, National Taxpayers Union
To best help taxpayers, consumers and farmers, Congress should: 1) scrap the current Farm Bill, which, if history is any guide, will far exceed its near-trillion-dollar price tag; 2) phase out subsidies, tariffs, price controls and regulatory red tape; 3) allow farmers to produce and export what they want; 4) end the death tax that still threatens some family farms, and 5) address nutrition programs separately. At the very least, the bill should be amended to:
• Reduce taxpayer subsidies for crop insurance.
• Strip out the proposed "shallow loss" program, which creates government price guarantees, but retain plans to end direct payments.
• Eliminate advertising programs for agribusiness giants.
• End or scale back wasteful schemes like corn-ethanol mandates and rural broadband grants.
• Chip away at the most egregious set-asides like those for milk and cotton.
• Revise food stamp eligibility rules.
Many amendments could help take the sting out of the Farm Bill; pending long-term reforms, taxpayers should insist that lawmakers pass them.
President, Taxpayers Protection Alliance
There are multiple ways that Congress could improve the Farm Bill, making it more efficient, while at the same time lowering the cost to the taxpayers footing the bill for the massive legislation. The optimal solution to this burdensome bill loaded with wasteful spending is to have an almost non-existent Farm Bill, but in today's landscape that just isn't a viable option.
What Congress can do, however, is utilize its role in the crafting of the Farm Bill to focus on reform, making sure that less money is spent and that programs receiving money are operating to the best of their ability.
There is no shortage of programs that are in need of reform including Federal Crop Insurance, Shallow Loss Programs, the Sugar Program and the Rural Utilities Services Loan Program. These are just a few of the many programs ripe for reform -- but Congress must lead the way.
Research Fellow in regulatory policy at the Heritage Foundation
A meaningful Farm Bill reform effort requires lawmakers to focus solely on agriculture. All superfluous programs that clutter the farm bill -- food stamps, energy, rural development -- ought to be jettisoned to other congressional committees. With regard to agriculture policy, farm subsidies must be eliminated. "Family farms" do not benefit from redistributing taxpayers' money to profitable agribusinesses. There are a host of nongovernmental methods with which farmers can manage risk, including futures contracts and hedging, crop diversification, credit reserves, and private insurance.
Decades-old subsidies will not disappear quickly. In the interim, Congress should:
• Limit subsidies to those with adjusted gross incomes below $250,000.
• Limit farm subsidies to $250,000 per farm, and bar farmers from collecting multiple subsidies.
• Strike the unnecessary permanent disaster aid program.
• End subsidies to members of Congress and their immediate families.
• Bar farmers who do not purchase crop insurance from receiving disaster payments.