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Fast-Tracking the 2012 Farm Bill Won’t Fix Farmers' Drought Woes

August 14, 2012 J

By Christine Harbin

“Never let a good crisis go to waste,” former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel famously advised. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) seems to take this advice to heart: With more than half of the country recovering from drought, Sen. Stabenow has been calling on her colleagues in the House of Representatives to bring the trillion-dollar 2012 Farm Bill to the floor and pass it quickly.

Sen. Stabenow overlooks the facts in order to advance a political argument.

The federal government already heavily subsidizes crop insurance, so farmers are already protected from the drought. Existing crop insurance programs will allow farm businesses to recover as much as 90 percent of their expected revenue. Some farmers may even see record profits this season, since concerns about low supplies have led to record-high commodity prices. These record prices will be used to calculate losses, meaning that farmers will receive higher crop insurance payments.

The Farm Bill actually spends very little on crop insurance, compared to other programs. The farm bill is a bloated welfare bill, and passing it will do little to help farmers deal with this summer’s drought. So, Senator Stabenow’s calls to pass the Farm Bill are meaningless political talking points. Only 9 percent of the total cost of the House bill would be spent on crop insurance. The vast majority of the programs in the Farm Bill don’t even go toward farmers at all. Nearly 80 percent of the $955 billion bill would go toward social welfare programs, such as food stamps, and the remaining 11 percent mainly goes toward special interest handouts in the agriculture industry.

Fast-tracking the Farm Bill through the House would leave taxpayers holding the bag, who are already facing a national debt of nearly $16 trillion. Now is the time for government officials to look for ways to rein in their reckless spending spending—not promote it. Unfortunately, the House version of the bill is prepared to spend more than ever. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the 2012 Farm Bill will cost $955 billion over the 2013-2022 period. American taxpayers can’t afford to continue this out-of-control spending.

When lawmakers come back from August recess, they have several options on the table for extending disaster relief. One option is to take up a stand-alone drought relief bill. Another option is to extend current farm programs for 1 year. (Don’t miss AFP’s letter of opposition to a short-term farm bill extension.) The danger in both of these options, however, is that they could be used to negotiate a bigger, broader deal in conference with the trillion-dollar Senate-passed version.

Whatever House lawmakers decide to do, they shouldn’t rush to pass this trillion-dollar bill through for the measly 9% it spends in crop insurance—particularly since farmers are already protected. If they decide against bringing the farm bill to the floor, it would not hurt states’ recovery from the current drought at all. With several options on the table, lawmakers in Washington should take a step back and give the bill serious consideration. They shouldn’t act with a false sense of urgency.

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