The Corner

The ‘Cuts’ in the Farm Bill Still Leave It More Expensive than the Previous One

House and Senate negotiators are supposed to unveil their farm-bill conference report this afternoon. As we often hear in Washington, the bill is a fiscally responsible effort that would “save between $23 billion and $24 billion over 10 years compared to existing funding.” But while it may be cutting money from what lawmakers expected they could spend on farm subsidies and food stamps, the bill will spend $950 billion over the next five years — increasing funding substantially rather than decreasing it.

Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute did the math:

If the final number is $950 billion, the 2014 farm bill will cost 48 percent more than the $640 billion farm bill passed in 2008. Farm bill supporters claim that the new bill includes “savings” and “cuts,” but that is a myth created by the rising CBO baseline. The reality is that Congress is set to impose a huge, damaging, and unaffordable burden on taxpayers and the economy.

That’s right: The 2008 farm bill spent $640 billion, and this one would cost $950 billion. Even adjusted for inflation, Congress will spend significantly more money on this stuff in the next five years than the previous five. 

Here is a chart showing the trend in farm subsidies, with the 2014 spending projected:

Obviously, it would be nice if Congress agreed to end farm subsidies altogether. If they are looking for arguments to deploy in favor of the idea, my colleague Matt Mitchell has a nice post explaining how the farm bill is a great example of some basic economic concepts (and how Congress epitomizes market failures): dead-weight loss, transitional-gains trap, interest-group formation, legislative logrolling, the bootleggers-and-Baptists theory, and price controls.

I’m still not convinced they’d buy it, but I would like it if Congress at least stopped trying to tell people that increasing spending amounts to savings.

Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

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