Members of Congress Get Millions in Farm Subsidies

June 03, 2013

By Christine Harbin

Congress passes the Farm Bill under the guise of helping small family farmers. My grandparents had a pig farm in southeastern Minnesota, so I understand how hard farming can be. But most farm subsidies don’t actually go to family farmers like my grandma and grandpa. Most of the subsidies go to large, politically-connected farm companies instead. And new data show that millions in farm subsidies go straight to Capitol Hill.

New analysis from the Environmental Working Group’s farm subsidy database reveals that several members of Congress receive farm subsidies themselves. From the Wall Street Journal:

The federal payments to the lawmakers—13 Republicans and two Democrats—ranged from $339 to Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R., Texas) to $70,574 to Rep. Stephen Fincher (R., Tenn.) [in 2012].  […] The payments to all but two of the lawmakers were well above the average of $604 paid to the lowest-subsidized 80% of farmers between 1995 and 2012, the group said.

This is a problem: Many of the people who make decisions on farm programs also directly benefit from them. Some benefit a great deal: Rep. Stephen Fincher collected $3.48 million between 1995 and 2012. This conflict of interests is troubling because it discourages members of Congress from reforming Farm Bill programs, leading to higher and higher spending levels out of Washington.

Are members of Congress thinking of taxpayers’ wallets or their own wallets when the votes come up?

A few the members who receive farm subsidies sit on the agricultural committees in Congress, meaning that they have extra-powerful positions in shaping U.S. farm policy. Sen. Chuck Grassley—who received over $327,000 in farm subsidies between 1995 and 2012—sits on the Senate Agriculture Committee, for example. Bill markups in Committee should be an opportunity for debating and reforming broken Farm bill programs, yet we see members of Congress green-light bills that expand many of the programs they directly benefit from.

The Farm Bill is quickly moving through Congress right now. The Senate will wrap up debate and likely pass its version of bill this week, and the House of Representatives will begin considering its version in June. This bill is bigger and more bloated than ever, and it won’t primarily help small struggling family farms, as its sponsors falsely advertise. Now more than ever, the Farm Bill needs reform.

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