To cut waste, look at Farm Bill

Although he’s planning to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to aid the floundering economy, President-elect Barack Obama also wants to cut unnecessary federal spending.

“To make the investments we need, we’ll have to scour our federal budget, line by line, and make meaningful cuts and sacrifices,” Obama said Tuesday.

We have a suggestion in that regard: Look at the Farm Bill.

Actually, Obama is already doing so. While outlining his plans to cut government waste, Obama specifically noted the report this week that said millionaire farmers obtained $49 million in crop subsidies from 2003 to 2006 that they weren’t legally entitled to receive.

The Government Accounting Office report released this week notes that 2,702 people nationwide received crop subsidies under the Farm Bill during the period in question, despite the fact their gross incomes exceeded $2.5 million and they were thus ineligible for subsidies.

The annual stories about millionaire recipients of farm subsidies are emblematic of what is wrong with the Farm
Bill. But by no means do they represent the entire problem.

Initiated during the Great Depression in an effort to keep family farmers afloat, crop subsidies have become agricultural entitlement programs in which far too many well-heeled farmers — or wealthy landowners who are not directly involved in agriculture themselves — demand continuing taxpayer subsidies for the crops they grow.

Not everything associated with the Farm Bill is bad. There are great programs to encourage conservation, and to ensure food is available for the needy. Furthermore, in today’s declining economy, subsidies for some smaller growers may be appropriate.

But massive subsidy programs for things like sugar and cotton, or to prop up dubious energy sources such as ethanol, have long been viewed as waste by members of both parties.

President Bush was no fan of the Farm Bill’s excesses and occasionally railed against the worst of the subsidy programs. But even when his party controlled Congress, he could accomplish little. Democrats and Republicans in Congress, some from states with large agricultural sectors, have attempted to push reforms. But they’ve had little success against the entrenched agricultural interests in Congress.

If Obama and his staff do go through the Farm Bill “line by line” and make efforts to cut it beyond eliminating the millionaire subsidies, it will be a real test of the president-elect’s willingness to engage in major reform and his power to persuade Congress.


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