The Corner

Re: Obama for ‘Change’

Andrew, here’s something that everyone (including me, until I saw Tom Maguire’s post on the subject) has missed so far about Obama’s support for the farm bill:

Last December, Obama blasted the Senate version of the farm bill, the vote on which he skipped, saying, “Once again the lobbyists stepped in to make sure that big agribusinesses got the multimillion-dollar giveaways that they’ve come to count on.”

But last week, he expressed his support for the final version of the farm bill, the vote on which he also skipped, calling it “the good” of which we should not let “the perfect” be the enemy.

What changed? According to a spokesman, Obama’s harsh words for the Senate version referred to its “failure to cap subsidy payments.”

Here’s the thing: The Senate version of the farm bill capped subsidy payments at exactly the same level as the final version of the bill. As the Denver Post editorialized last December:

The Senate’s only concession toward curbing this welfare for the rich was to lower that cap to $750,000 in 2010 — nearly four times as high as the $200,000 ceiling Bush had sought.

The payment cap in the final bill is set at $750,000 (or double that for married farmers) — exactly where it was in the Senate bill Obama slammed last December.

Maybe Obama should take another crack at explaining why he now supports a bill he once characterized as a multimillion-dollar giveaway to big agribusiness.

UPDATE: John McCain has an op-ed in today’s Chicago Tribune on the subject of the farm bill. A taste:

The majority of subsidies in this proposal go to large commercial farms that average $200,000 in annual income and $2 million in net worth, and the bill allows a single farmer to earn more than $1 million before cutting subsidies. How can we credibly extend this largesse to this constituency? If I am elected president, I will seek an end to all farm subsidies and tariffs that are not based on clear need.

The farm bill will cost taxpayers nearly $300 billion, including $5 billion for direct payments each year to farmers, regardless of whether they grow anything. Growing better crops using less land, water and natural resources requires a more robust research approach, but this bill spends more than twice as much on direct payments as it does on agricultural research.

I am not opposed to providing a reasonable risk management for farmers. When farmers suffer from a natural disaster such as droughts or floods, we should assist them. But this bill fails to make the reforms needed to provide that assistance responsibly.

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