WASHINGTON (Dec. 11) – The R Street Institute is deeply disappointed with the farm bill conference report released late Monday evening. Rather than include the handful of modest, free-market reforms proposed in earlier House and Senate versions of the legislation, the compromise package jettisons all reforms and includes the worst elements of both bills.
“Not only is this a missed opportunity to enact much-needed reforms to the commodity and nutrition titles, it is also marks a major step backward in the ongoing effort to focus farm subsidies on farmers who need them most,” R Street Policy Analyst Caroline Kitchens said.
Among the commonsense amendments not included in the conference report was one introduced by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, which would have closed loopholes to ensure that farmers collecting subsidies actually live or work on a farm. More alarmingly, the final package includes language from the House bill that would extend eligibility for farm subsidies to a farmer’s cousins, nieces and nephews. This provision allows an unlimited number of distant relatives and their spouses to each collect up to $125,000 a year in subsidies, so long as they fill out the necessary paperwork.
“This will dramatically expand the abuse and corporate welfare rampant in our farm-support system and make it even harder to enact reasonable reforms in future farm bills,” Kitchens said.
The conference report contains several other troubling provisions that will maximize payouts to farmers at the expense of taxpayers. It allows farmers to switch back and forth between the “shallow loss” Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs each year in order to maximize their payments. These programs go beyond the concept of a safety net by protecting producers from minor dips in revenue. They already have cost taxpayers nearly double their projected expense when they were created in the 2014 farm bill.
The conference report also rejects a modest reform in the Senate version of the bill that would have lowered the means test for eligibility for commodity subsidies from $900,000 of adjusted gross income (or $1.8 million for married farmers) to a still-generous $700,000 (or $1.4 million for married farmers). It also includes a slew of other protectionist provisions, from a checkoff program for natural stone to a $2 million subsidy for sheep.
“Farm bills are known for being bloated and wasteful, but this year’s final package is worse than any other in recent memory,” Kitchens said. “Lawmakers should reject this package, pass a one-year extension of the current farm bill and go back to the drawing board in the 116th Congress to craft a new bill that considers the interests of taxpayers alongside those of special interests.”