There’s a lot to digest in the 641-page farm bill , which passed the House Agriculture Committee a few weeks ago and is expected to head to the House floor next week. With a projected price tag of nearly $900 billion over the next 10 years, H.R. 2 is chock full of spending on everything from food stamps to rural broadband to milk prices.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway’s (R-Tex.) reforms to the nutrition title of the bill, which institute stricter work requirements for recipients of food stamps, have seized most of the press surrounding the behemoth legislative package. But make no mistake: there’s plenty more to inspect, including an array of protectionist schemes, price supports and market-distorting subsidies. Here’s a list of four of the dumbest things in this year’s House farm bill that aren’t likely to draw headlines.
- New subsidies for farmers’ nieces, cousins and nephews
Current agriculture policy already allows farmowners who don’t even live or work on a farm to receive up to $125,000 in commodity subsidies. Their spouses and additional family members can each collect an additional $125,000 as well. H.R. 2 expands the definition of family members to include cousins, nieces and nephews—all of whom will be eligible for an additional $125,000 in subsidies.
- New loopholes for corporations
Currently, owners of nonfamily farms can designate up to three managers of their farm and—you guessed it—all of these managers (and their spouses!) can each get up to $125,000 in subsidies. H.R. 2 expands loopholes to make limited-liability corporations and S-corps eligible as “pass-through entities,” which will allow them to avoid adjusted gross income caps and collect even more subsidies.
- Subsidies for sheep
The last farm bill originally authorized $1.5 million to subsidize the Sheep Industry Improvement Center, but it was stripped from the bill by an amendment that passed on the House floor. Subsidies for sheep are again snuck into this year’s House farm bill, this time to the tune of $2 million.
- Rocks as commodities
Last time around, House Agriculture Committee members also sought to designate natural stone (that’s right, rocks) as a commodity eligible for marketing and promotion programs. The provision would have required “rock farmers” (is there such a thing?) to pay a tax toward a promotion board for natural stone. This, too, was stripped on the floor, but now the idea has reared its ugly head again in H.R. 2.
These are all examples of some of the new shenanigans inserted into this year’s draft. But more importantly, the bill also fails to make much-needed reforms  that would address the corporate welfare and cronyism rampant in the agriculture portion of the bill. And it reauthorizes the U.S. sugar program, a Soviet-style command-and-control scheme that forces American consumers to pay twice the average world price for sugar.
Chairman Conaway and his Republican colleagues on the Agriculture Committee desperately want to put all the focus on welfare reform and sell H.R. 2 as a Republican victory. But you can’t just put work requirements on an otherwise terrible, bloated bill and call it a conservative win. At the end of the day, this year’s draft farm bill is even more wasteful and full of cronyism than previous iterations.
- “farm bill”: https://agriculture.house.gov/uploadedfiles/agriculture_and_nutrition_act_of_2018.pdf
- “much-needed reforms”: https://www.rstreet.org/2018/05/11/two-changes-to-crop-insurance-to-improve-equity-and-efficiency/