All 92 Indiana counties have been declared an agricultural disaster area as the worst drought to hit the United States in decades continues. The need for disaster relief has never been greater. But, well, our senators and representatives skipped out of Washington for the campaign season without passing the reauthorization of the farm bill, which includes disaster relief.
Hoosier candidates such as Republican Richard Mourdock in the U.S. Senate race and Democrat John Gregg in the gubernatorial race are right that the failure is a disgrace. But urging their opponents – Democrat U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly and GOP U.S. Rep Mike Pence – to return to Washington to “do something” is mere political posturing. The reasons for the gridlock over the farm bill haven’t gone away and aren’t likely to so close to an election.
In an effort to help farmers despite the lack of a bill, the House passed an emergency $383 million relief measure. But it stalled in the Senate because of members who, in the words of the National Review, “are holding the Midwest hostage in the name of passing a $1 trillion big-government goodie bag laden with useless subsidies and unprecedented welfare spending.”
Conservatives who deplore wasteful spending can find plenty to deplore in the Senate bill, with Congress dispensing its largesse to both the well-off and the needy:
- Support for agribusiness will continue and grow. Direct payments, meant to ease farmers toward a free market and set to end in 2002, never did stop. And the Senate proposes to move about $5 billion from those payments to a plan for protection against falling commodity prices that could end up costing even more.
- More than $800 billion over 10 years will be spent on food stamps, which account for a whopping two-thirds of the Department of Agriculture’s budget. Food stamp rolls have rose from one in 50 Americans in the 1970s to one in seven today, mostly because of ever loosening eligibility standards. The number of participants has jumped from 30 million to 46 million just during this administration.
The farm bill is small potatoes when it comes to excessive, wasteful government spending.
But it shows in microcosm the contours of the problem: Washington’s only answer for anything is to keep shoveling the money out, and nobody seems to know how to turn the process off.
Somebody should make it a project to take on reform of Washington’s relationship with agriculture – how about it, Mr. Mourdock? If lawmakers can make sense out of this one small piece of the puzzle, it might teach them something about the rest of it.
This commentary can be accessed by visiting http://www.foodmarket.com/newsemail.asp?key=872625