The Farm Bureau is the swamp
This story came to mind as I read a new piece of research from the R Street Institute, posted on October 3: “Farm-support reform options in the lead-up to the 2018 farm bill.” Well written and concise, this policy study explains what I have now come to expect: ballooning and outlandish costs, impenetrable and overlapping complexity, double-dip cronyism, market distortions to give you a headache, no transparency, and, perhaps worst of all, an embedded special-interest group with an entitlement mentality, accompanied by a few spineless politicos.
For reference, the entire Farm Bill budget allocation comes to about a $1 trillion over a decade, with two-thirds for food stamps and the rest for an array of subsidies. To his credit, President Donald Trump has called for a 21 percent cut to the US Department of Agriculture, with an eye on “crop insurance and commodity-support programs” (PDF, p.1), and you can guess what the response has been.
American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said “Clearly this budget fails agriculture and rural America.… [and] would be unwarranted and unwise.” His organization, with chapters in every state and Puerto Rico, claims to be the “recognized advocacy leader for farmers and ranchers,” which is true but embarrassing. Unfortunately, he already has lap-dog politicians working to undermine Trump and a reduced budget, even as US federal debts mount to more absurdity by the day.
While I would get rid of these unconstitutional programs wholesale at the federal level, Trump’s modest proposal would, according to the Farm Bureau, “gut federal crop insurance, one of the nation’s most important farm safety-net programs.” Because as the Founding Fathers said, men are endowed with unalienable rights, “among these are Life, Liberty, and a Federally Guaranteed Profits.” That is no exaggeration: taxpayers cover administrative and operating costs of crop-insurance companies and the bulk of the premiums. They even guarantee that the participating insurance companies earn a 14.5 percent rate of return (PDF, p.3).
Caroline Hitchens of the R Street Institute, author of the five-page policy study, has gone to great efforts to highlight simple and politically feasible reforms to the various subsidies within the Farm Bill. These limited measures, which she has in large part found in already-introduced legislation — such as caps on the subsidies and means-testing for recipients — all make sense. However, their piecemeal nature suggest the problem of spending and cronyism at the federal level goes much deeper.
In Hicthens’s words, portions of the Farm Bill “are the embodiment of crony capitalism and cost taxpayers significant sums each year.” All those who professionally advocate for and facilitate its status quo continuation are the swamp.