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“Farm” Bill, Really?

On June 3rd, the Senate will resume deliberations on the nearly $1 trillion dollar “Farm” bill. However, the majority of the “farm” bill does not actually deal with agriculture or farms.  In fact, food and nutrition assistance programs (food stamps) such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) comprise roughly 80% of the farm bill, costing tens of billions of dollars. SNAP alone has grown into a major financial obligation, rising from $19.8 billion in 2000 to $84.6 billion in 2011, making it the 2nd most expensive means-tested federal welfare program (out of 79). 

But why are food stamps included in the farm bill? The simple answer is: the bill would not be politically viable otherwise. Urban Democratic legislators want food stamps, while rural Republicans want agricultural subsidies. Neither side would vote for the other, but they want to bring favors back to their constituency and win support in their districts. Senator Thad Cochran (R–MS), ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, admits that food stamps should be included in the farm bill, “purely from a political perspective. It helps get the farm bill passed.”   

There is no common sense reason for combining these two issues. Combining them only allows politicians to engage in horse trading that reduces accountability and transparency on such huge fiscal responsibilities. While this situation is a win-win for legislators, it is a serious loss for the American taxpayer and consumer. After all, agriculture subsidies and food stamps conflict. Subsidies artificially raise the price of commodities by financially supporting farmers, making food more expensive for those in need of food stamps. While subsidies counter the goals of food stamps, the American taxpayer has to keep shelling out hundreds of billions of dollars to fuel the contradiction. 

A major entitlement worth tens of billions of dollars per year deserves to be debated and voted upon separately. Food stamp programs are in desperate need of reform and hiding them under the guise of a “farm” bill does not let us shed light on needed reforms.  While Washington clearly has its own motives, there have been efforts to separate food stamps from the farm bill. In June 2012, Sen. Ron Johnson motioned to separate the two issues, but the motion failed to garner enough support. What is interesting is the number of Republicans who voted to remove food stamps from the legislation, but still voted for the whole bill. 

The truth is politicians are afraid that their programs will not be able to stand up to the scrutiny, so they hide massive entitlement programs within legislation. Senator Ron Johnson will be offering his motion again this year -- you can take action by contacting your Senators and demanding that they support Senator Johnson’s motion to separate food stamps from the Farm bill.