Farm policy, although it’s complex, can be explained. What it can’t be is believed. No cheating spouse, no teen with a wrecked family car, no mayor of Washington, DC, videotaped in flagrante delicto has ever come up with anything as farfetched as U.S. farm policy.
So yesterday, the United States Senate voted to pass into law H.R. 6124, the “Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008,” already passed by the House, in both cases by a veto-proof majority, rendering irrelevant the belatedly principled stand of President Bush, who promises a veto.* Chances are pretty good that your Congressperson and at least one of your Senators voted for this atrocity, which passed the House 306-110 and the Senate 77-15, despite valiant efforts to slow down the bill by Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn. Like all really horrendous things to come out of Washington, this load of legislative fertilizer has broad bipartisan support. So give thanks for the hardy few Senators – 13 Republicans and two Rhode Island Democrats – who voted “no” (as well as the lengtier list of their 98 Republican and 12 Democratic House counterparts you can find here):
Bennett (R-UT), Hatch (R-UT), Coburn (R-OK), Collins (R-ME), DeMint (R-SC), Domenici (R-NM), Ensign (R-NV), Hagel (R-NE), Kyl (R-AZ), Lugar (R-IN), Murkowski (R-AK), Sununu (R-NH), Voinovich (R-OH), Reed (D-RI) Whitehouse (D-RI)
In case you are wondering, John McCain and Barack Obama missed the vote, but McCain says he would have vetoed the bill “and all others like it that serve only the cause of special interests and corporate welfare” and because farm subsidies threaten free trade, whereas Obama is proud to support precisely the kind of legislation that has made Washington so roundly popular with the public (in Obama’s statement, he says “I applaud the Senate’s passage today of the Farm Bill, which will provide America’s hard-working farmers and ranchers with more support and more predictability.” So much for “Change”).**
Anyway, in honor of this occasion, I ask you to submit your vote for your favorite provision of this new federal law, which your elected representatives have enacted on your behalf. See, Democracy works! Read On…
So, here’s the bill, if despite Congress’ fumblings I have the right link from the Library of Congress website (the page with the Senate roll call vote directs you there). Let’s meet the 18 contestants – I don’t mean to suggest that the bill is all bad, or on the contrary that these are necessarily the worst offenders; they’re just the ones that jumped out on scanning the bill’s titles:
Title I, Sub. A, SEC. 1104. AVAILABILITY OF COUNTER-CYCLICAL PAYMENTS. Provides for payments to farmers of specified crops “if the Secretary [of Agriculture] determines that the effective price for the covered commodity is less than the target price for the covered commodity.” For example, if the price of Oats falls below $1.44 per bushel, the oat farmers get to make up the difference with taxpayer money. Don’t you wish Congress did this for your business? Oh, the fun we lawyers could have!
Title I, Sub. C, SEC. 1303. AVAILABILITY OF DIRECT PAYMENTS FOR PEANUTS. Yes, the bill also provides “direct payments” (i.e., regardless of the market price of the crop) for some specified crops, to make sure that if you grow peanuts, you get taxpayer dollars, win or lose! And you still get to sell the peanuts! Win-win!
Title I, Sub. D (Sugar), SEC. 359k. ADMINISTRATION OF TARIFF RATE QUOTAS. Enforces tariffs on sugar. Wonder why unhealthy high-fructose corn syrup is so popular? (Seriously, look at an ingredients list some time). Well, Congress is a good place to start. One reason is because tariffs on imported sugar keep prices artificially high, leading producers of sodas and snacks to substitute cheaper HFCS. Yay for Congress and Barack Obama for supporting this government interference!
Title I, Sub. E, SEC. 1509. FEDERAL MILK MARKETING ORDER REVIEW COMMISSION. I’ve discussed before the wonderful federal milk marketing order process, which involves a Cabinet secretary in a price-fixing scheme. Any Congress worthy of the job would tear what Dick Armey long ago called “Our Socialist Farm Policy” up by the roots. But this is Washington, so here’s the solution: appoint a 14-member “Federal Milk Marketing Order Review Commission” to study the issue for two years and report back to Congress on whether the price-fixing process is working out well enough.
Title I, Sub. F, SEC. 1611. PREVENTION OF DECEASED INDIVIDUALS RECEIVING PAYMENTS UNDER FARM COMMODITY PROGRAMS. Asks the Secretary of Agriculture to implement federal regulations to stop paying dead farmers. The necessity of this provision speaks volumes about these programs.
Title I, Sub. F, SEC. 1621. GEOGRAPHICALLY DISADVANTAGED FARMERS AND RANCHERS. What, you ask, is a “geographically disadvantaged farmer”? Apparently, it’s somebody who started a farm so far off in the middle of nowhere that it’s too expensive to transport the crops to anybody who will buy them. You know, that should usually be a sign to go into another line of business, like maybe drilling for oil or telemarketing or something. But no – Congress will pay your shipping costs with taxpayer money!
Title II, Sub. E, SEC. 1238I. FARMLAND PROTECTION PROGRAM. Commits the Secretary to “establish and carry out a farmland protection program under which the Secretary shall facilitate and provide funding for the purchase of conservation easements or other interests in eligible land….by limiting nonagricultural uses of that land.” So not only are we paying people to grow unprofitable crops in unreachable locations, fixing retail prices and taxing the bejesus out of the competition, we’re going to spend taxpayer dollars to buy even more farmland that nobody has managed to make economically viable in the 400 or so years that people have been farming here.
Title II, Sub. J, SEC. 2902. NAMING OF NATIONAL PLANT MATERIALS CENTER AT BELTSVILLE, MARYLAND, IN HONOR OF NORMAN A. BERG. “Any reference in a law, map, regulation, document, paper, or other record of the United States to such National Plant Materials Center shall be deemed to be a reference to the Norman A. Berg National Plant Materials Center.” Now, Mr. Berg sounds like a nice fellow, but no piece of huge, wasteful legislation would be complete without this sort of commemorative fiddling.
Title IV, Part I: RENAMING OF FOOD STAMP ACT AND PROGRAM: renames the “Food Stamp Act of 1977” the “Food and Nutrition Act of 2008” and renames “food stamp program” the “supplemental nutrition assistance program”. Which, presumably, still gives you stamps you exchange for food, but now we are “striking ‘food stamp recipients’ and inserting ‘supplemental nutrition assistance program recipients.'”
Title IV, Part III SEC. 4111. NUTRITION EDUCATION. If living on food stamps isn’t unpleasant enough, Congress wants to nag you to spend them on vegetables, too: “State agencies may implement a nutrition education program for individuals eligible for program benefits that promotes healthy food choices,” of course at the expense of the rest of us.
Title IV, Sub. C SEC. 4302. PURCHASES OF LOCALLY PRODUCED FOODS. Encourages school lunch and similar programs to buy locally grown food. Whether or not their locale is “geographically disadvantaged.” You would think local jurisdictions would want to do this anyway, unless they have their own reasons not to, without federal meddling.
Title V, Sub. A, SEC. 5005. BEGINNING FARMER OR RANCHER AND SOCIALLY DISADVANTAGED FARMER OR RANCHER CONTRACT LAND SALES PROGRAM. As if the rest of this bill doesn’t already convince us that we are supporting farmers who don’t know how to make money producing the very stuff of life itself, the government wants to pay ignorant amateurs to get in the business by “guarantee[ing] a loan made by a private seller of a farm or ranch to a qualified beginning farmer or rancher or socially disadvantaged farmer or rancher.”
Title VII, Sub. A SEC. 7112. EDUCATION GRANTS TO ALASKA NATIVE-SERVING INSTITUTIONS AND NATIVE HAWAIIAN-SERVING INSTITUTIONS. Hey, what’s federal legislation without a little race discrimination?
Title VII, Sub. D, SEC. 7415. CONSTRUCTION OF CHINESE GARDEN AT THE NATIONAL ARBORETUM. A vital national security interest, I am sure.
Title VII, Part III, SEC. 7527. STUDY AND REPORT ON FOOD DESERTS. Which apparently means places “with limited access to affordable and nutritious food, particularly such an area composed of predominantly lower-income neighborhoods and communities.” A study is commissioned, but Congress already knows what it wants recommended:
(3) provide recommendations for addressing the causes and effects of food deserts through measures that include–
(A) community and economic development initiatives;
(B) incentives for retail food market development, including supermarkets, small grocery stores, and farmers’ markets; and
(C) improvements to Federal food assistance and nutrition education programs.
This might be more encouraging if it didn’t come at the back end of a bill finding every imaginable way to jack up food prices and distort free markets. But hey, maybe at the end of this they will tell local communities to slash the minimum wage for grocery baggers, let Wal-Mart build big stores without union labor, and otherwise stop throwing up governmental barriers to entry. Or, they will just recommend more
food stamps supplemental nutrition assistance.
Title X, Sub. D SEC. 10401. NATIONAL HONEY BOARD – proposes a vote to split the existing Honey Board: “referenda on orders to establish a honey packer-importer board or a United States honey producer board,” and “ensure that the rights and interests of honey producers, importers, packers, and handlers of honey are equitably protected in any disposition of the assets, facilities, intellectual property, and programs of the existing Honey Board and in the transition to any 1 or more new successor marketing boards”. Because honey just can’t sell itself without federal marketing! This provision made Pooh Bear cry.
Title XI SEC. 11013. NATIONAL AQUATIC ANIMAL HEALTH PLAN. “The Secretary of Agriculture may enter into a cooperative agreement with an eligible entity to carry out a project under a national aquatic animal health plan.” Federal money for health care for the creatures of the sea!
Title XIV, SEC. 14013. OFFICE OF ADVOCACY AND OUTREACH. “The duties of the Office shall be to ensure small farms and ranches, beginning farmers or ranchers, and socially disadvantaged farmers or ranchers access to, and equitable participation in, programs and services of the Department” – in other words, a federal office to make sure we give the maximum taxpayer dollars to farmers who not only don’t know farming but don’t know how to beg for federal money. Presumably, we will be hiring on our payroll a bunch of
panhandlers in neckties ‘community organizers’ for these folks.
* – Yes, this is the same farm bill that Pelosi & Co. previously screwed up by sending it to the President with parts missing and then trying to sneak them back into the bill.
** – Oh yeah, Hillary also missed the vote but supports the bill.