Mt. Vernon Register-News

Opinion

January 31, 2014

Farm bill needs a veto

In two recent speeches, his Dec. 4 oration on income inequality and his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Obama proclaimed his commitment to fairness and equal opportunity. In the former address, he called inequality “the defining challenge of our time”; in the latter, he vowed to use executive action to meet it. So we hope Mr. Obama will pick up the phone, call Congress — and tell them he’s preparing his veto pen for the 2014 farm bill. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that this legislative grotesquerie gives to the rich and takes from the poor.

Tipping the financial scales at $956 billion over 10 years, or just over $1 billion per page, the hideously complex bill is supposedly a compromise that reforms crop subsidy programs. To be sure, it eliminates a program that gave billions each year in “direct payments” to farmers regardless of individual need or economic conditions, and it incentivizes participation in soil conservation programs.

But what the bill takes from the ag lobby with one hand, it largely gives back with the other.

Of $40.8 billion in projected savings (over 10 years) from eliminating direct payments, the bill restores $27.2 billion via enhanced crop insurance subsidies and a new program that “insures” against adverse price movements. Supposedly necessary to secure the nation’s food supply at a time of record farm income and epidemic obesity, this federal largess flows almost regardless of how much money its recipients already have. People making up to $900,000 per year in adjusted gross income can qualify for payments. The total commodity-program take for any individual “actively engaged” in farming is capped at $125,000 — or 2 1/2 times the national median household income. But this “limit” is mostly phony. “Actively engaged” has applied to many an absentee investor in the past; Congress did not deign to refine this plastic criterion. It asked Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to do so through the regulatory process, which farm interests hugely influence.

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