Opinion - Rep. Harris's Farm Bill Folly
by Nick Loffer
The House of Representatives passed a “farm-only Farm Bill” this past week, one that fails to make any free market reforms to farm programs. Representative Andy Harris was only member of the Maryland delegation to support this bloated legislation. Instead of standing up for free enterprise and limited government like he claims to do in his campaign speeches, Rep. Harris voted for 5 more years of government favoritism and corporate welfare.
The House-passed bill extends a number of broken farm programs that raise grocery prices, increase taxes, and expand the size and scope of government. It expands commodity price supports, crop insurance subsidies, and misguided international trade policy. These Farm Bill programs are corporate welfare, and they should not be a foundation for U.S. agriculture policy. Evidently Rep. Harris disagrees.
In many ways, the bill that the House passed is even worse than current farm law. The bill removes the traditional sunsets from many farm programs such as the broken sugar program, meaning that they become permanent and need no reauthorization from Congress. Proponents claim that this bill saves money, but they rely on Washington budget gimmicks. In reality, this bill is a big increase over current law, increasing absolute spending by more than $1 billion in next year alone. This bill will cost taxpayers $196 billion over the next decade.
Although the bill does repeal the widely-criticized direct payment program for most commodity producers (except for cotton producers, as it turns out), the bill replaces it with a new revenue guarantee program called “shallow loss” that will cost even more. Rep. Harris conveniently ignores this fact in his recent editorial. Agriculture economists with the American Enterprise Institute estimate that this new program will cost $8-14 billion per year, far exceeding the $5 billion per year we currently spend on direct payments.
The House passed the farm-only Farm Bill with the false pretense of helping small family farmers, even though most of the benefits don’t actually go to family farmers. Most farm subsidies go to wealthy, well-connected farm companies that can afford Washington lobbyists. For example, crop insurance premium subsidies are not means-tested, meaning that even multi-millionaires can receive them. In fact, data show that tens of millions in farm payments end up in the pockets of Rep. Harris’s colleagues in Congress.
If Rep. Harris truly wanted to help out farm communities, there are much better ways for him to go about it. One way would be to repeal the federal death and gift taxes that prevent many families from passing their farm from one generation to the next. Under our current tax code, the IRS confiscates more than a third of an estate upon death, forcing many families into selling their farm instead of passing it on. Americans For Prosperity has been actively engaged on repealing this misguided and immoral tax that impacts small farmers.
Maryland is home to over 38,000 Americans For Prosperity activists, and Rep. Harris should know that we watched how he voted on the issue. Promoting reckless spending is not why we sent him to Washington—but that’s exactly what he did last week.
Nick Loffer is Interim State Director of Americans for Prosperity-Maryland