Unfortunately for consumers withering under the oppressive burden of massive inflation and economic uncertainty, a supposed rescue plan racing through Congress won’t provide the relief backers promise. Worse, it could exacerbate the very problems it claims to solve—the high cost of food and fuels—while at the same time adding $700 million in unfunded spending to our debt.

The bill, H.R. 7606, the Lower Food and Fuel Costs Act, which passed the House today (June 16) 221-204, is packed with self-defeating provisions and tortured logic. Title I proposes a duplicative regulatory regime for already highly regulated industries—meat and poultry production—claiming it will save consumers money, rather than raise costs for producers. Title II would expand the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) to include payments of up to 100 percent of the cost for farmers to adopt cost-saving measures they are already likely to implement in the form of better nutrient (fertilizer)-application practices. Likewise, Title VI, which provides money for crop rotation and advanced grazing, again rewards farmers for best-practice techniques that are already widely adopted and strongly recommended.

Two other titles, Titles IV and V, give corn growers conflicting signals. Corn producers, who require large amounts of nitrogen-rich fertilizer and benefit most from crop rotation to replenish depleted soils, are incentivized to ignore best practices in the interest of growing ever more corn for new, year-round E15 and a government-funded fuel-infrastructure system that can handle the more caustic, higher-ethanol blends.

It’s unclear how diverting more corn, which is already on a costly trajectory, from food and meat production to fuel tanks will help lower costs for consumers. Or how targeting poultry industry consolidation will relieve the effects of the avian flu outbreak that has devastated populations and caused prices of both meat and eggs to skyrocket. Or how expanding demand for a fertilizer-heavy crop will take pressure off the demand for scarce and expensive fertilizer.

A large number of factors affecting the agriculture and energy industries are far outside the reach of the government, no matter how hard it tries to address them. Problems like avian flu, drought in Brazil, and weather conditions for the upcoming U.S. growing season are all factors that contribute to food and fuel costs but are out of our hands.

On top of its contradictory policies, H.R. 7606 also comes with a $700-million price tag, designated as emergency spending thereby dodging the need to pay for this new spending. Unaffordable spending and our tremendous debt are major drivers of the inflation eroding our economic power. Unlike the variables noted above, this is something that Congress actually can control by ending its profligate impulses and pursuing a more fiscally responsible path.

Image: Warakorn

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