The Corner

Scoring the Farm Bill

In the wake of the failure of the House farm bill, Harry Reid is urging John Boehner to take up the Senate version before the expiration of current farm policy on September 30, the AP reports. Said Reid, “Doing nothing means no reform, no deficit reduction and no certainty for America’s 16 million farm-industry workers.”

It is hard to see how the Senate bill would reduce the deficit considering how much more expensive it will be than the failed House bill. The 2013 House farm bill was projected to spend $940 billion, or 60 percent, more than the previous farm bill, which passed five years ago. Also, as many have documented, the House bill itself contained no significant cost reductions. In addition, there are good reasons to believe that no matter what the price tag, the final bill will end up being much more expensive than is anticipated. Taxpayers for Commonsense (TCS) claims that the CBO missed the mark in scoring accurate spending levels by $450 billion, cumulatively, for the last two farm bills. The following chart illustrates their findings.


As for savings in this farm bill, TCS argues that most of the cost savings claimed by the farm bill’s supporters came from sequestration and existing laws:

While Farm Bill apologists will tout the Congressional Budget Office deficit reduction score, they often skip over gimmicks that were used to accomplish this score. When you strip out sequestration savings already mandated under law and savings that occur outside the ten-year budget window, the CBO estimates that the bill would shave barely three percent, or just $27 billion, off the bill’s nearly trillion-dollar baseline.

The cost-saving rhetoric about the farm bill served as a budgetary distraction for what was really deficit spending. We can expect the same this time around. 

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

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