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Six years ago, Congress took a courageous step to phase out almost all agricultural subsidies. The Freedom to Farm Act of 1996 had the promise of:
Congress appears poised to abandon all of this progress and massively expand agricultural subsidies. The Bush administration has said it will accept $73.5 billion in subsidies over the next six years --- which is about $73.5 billion more than the taxpayers were promised back in 1996. To make matters worse, reports indicate Congress is now rushing to pass a conference report because if they wait too long the Congressional Budget Office will have time to tell the taxpayers the truth – that the legislation will likely cost more than $90 billion.
When conservatives are trying to make tax cuts permanent, $90 billion is a great deal of money. When we are faced with big costs for the war on terrorism, $90 billion is a great deal of money. When Congress and the administration want to return the budget to surplus as quickly as possible, $90 billion is a great deal of money.
Clearly, what Congressional leaders have decided is that it isn’t worth fighting for good policy any more. Agricultural interests have spent the past six years pressuring Members of Congress to keep the subsidies flowing and the political decision has been made that the easiest path is to sue for peace and give the farm lobby whatever they want.
Conservatives better understand the huge price they will pay for accepting this short-term political expediency. First, we now have fewer resources for the core of the conservative economic agenda – fundamental tax reform and Social Security reform. Second, coming on the heels of the news that we are experiencing the greatest expansion of government spending since the Great Society, this legislation will further deflate the base of the conservative movement. Third, Congress has shown every special interest that under continued pressure Congress will eventually cave and give you what you want.
Congress has gone from a promise to end agricultural subsidies to providing a record boost in payments and government intervention. Does anybody seriously think there isn’t a lesson in that for every special interest looking for a federal handout?
The renamed “Farm Security Act” will cost taxpayers far in excess of the $90 billion estimate. More special interests will put more pressure on more congressional committees because of this legislation and Congress will choose the path of least resistance – and federal spending will increase well beyond the $90 billion of this particular piece of legislation.
Conservatives will pay a huge price with their base. How do you convince conservative activists that you believe in limited government when you are stewarding the largest increase in agricultural subsidies in history? This is not an isolated occurrence. Where else can conservatives look to see where the size and scope of government has been checked? In recent years, the Appropriations Committee has greatly expanded funding in all areas of government, including education, transportation, the arts and the “environment.”
If Congress continues spending at this pace, fewer and fewer Republican legislators will believe in making the tax cuts permanent. The more Congress spends, the more politically effective the Democrat fear-mongering on Republicans robbing Social Security will sound. (Of course the Democrat scare tactics targeted to seniors are wrong on substance and reprehensible as a political strategy, but Republicans shouldn’t make it any easier for these lies and half-truths to “work”)
In other words, by choosing the path of least resistance, Congress has not chosen the easiest path. The job of enacting good policy will get harder, not easier as a result of this political expediency.