The Corner

What a Surprise: The Farm Bill Already Costs More than Congress Said It Would

We’ve been talking a bit recently about how Congress and the federal government deceive the American people about laws and legislation. A great additional example: the claims that were made the last time the farm bill was debated — how it was necessary for middle-class farmers and was going to represent a spending cut anwyay. On the contrary, the farm bill is an unacceptable payout to a small portion of fairly well-off Americans at the the expenses of everyone else, including consumers and younger and lower-income farmers. And year after year, predictions that subsidies will be much more expensive than expected end up being are proven correct.

So we knew this was coming. Reuters reports:

U.S. farmers are about to reap a bumper harvest not just in corn and soybeans but also in new subsidies that could soar to $10 billion, blowing a hole in the government’s promise that its new five-year farm bill would save taxpayers money.

If payments for 2014, the first year the farm bill takes effect, do come in at that level – as some private economists have calculated – they would be more than 10 times the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s working estimate and more than double the forecast by the Congressional Budget Office. ….

The farm bill’s new programs were meant to cost the taxpayer less by replacing a nearly two-decade-old scheme of direct cash payments to farmers, which were about $5 billion a year and were made regardless of need.

But the payouts for 2014 now look likely to far exceed that amount.

As the article says, this news won’t get the outrage it deserves because Congress is now controlled by the biggest believers of redistribution to farmers: Republicans.

As always, the biggest beneficiaries are the wealthiest ones. As my colleague Matthew Mitchell explains, “though the average farm has done quite well, it is not the average farm that receives privileges. As demonstrated by [the] chart below, since 1995, 83 percent of subsidy payments have flowed to the largest 15 percent of farms.”

Here’s the Reason column I wrote when the current farm bill was being was debated — I noted that there was no way any money would actually be saved.

You don’t have to be a genius to make such predictions in Washington. The only way to fix this sad state of affairs is to the end all subsidies to private businesses. Farm subsidies are a good place to start (after the Ex-Im Bank is abolished, of course).

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

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