December 17, 2013
An Idaho farmer's drone.  (Courtesy of Robert Blair/Associated Press)
An Idaho farmer’s drone. (Courtesy of Robert Blair/Associated Press)

Congress might pass a bill! No, it’s true, says Charles Lane in his column. Serious Congress-watchers think we’re on the way to passing a bill that is neither about post offices nor cutting income taxes. So, yay, except the bill might be doing more harm than good.

Yes, it’s the farm bill, which Lane argues is a funky contraption built for Depression-era farming and haphazardly retooled to try to address the hyper-efficient corporate-owned farms we have today, as well as the calorie surplus. It’s like fixing up a Model T rather than looking at your transportation needs and figuring out what works already. The bill hasn’t adapted well, so let it die, Lane says.

Unfortunately, as Damn Dirty Ape argues, the bill is absolutely vital to the most important constituents of all: Congresspeople themselves.

We need a farm bill so that we can fund our elections and the retirements of our legislators.

Yes, Congresstypes are disproportionately among those who benefit from the farm bill.

Mike542 says that it’s not even really about farming, it’s about lobbyists with money:

Organizations are free to lobby till the cows come home. If the entire farm bill goes away politicians have to find some other way to hide the payoff. Then we eliminate the federal program where they hide that payoff. And so on.

va_dawg thinks it does matter that we’re talking about the food system of the United States. There really does need to be support in times of crisis:

The crop insurance programs and a few others designed to smooth out year-to-year boom/bust in production and finance serve everyone (farmers, consumers, urbanites), not just ConAgra, ADM, Cargill, et al. The consequences of a boom/bust wild west “free market” will ultimately be more expensive for consumers. The cost of that volatility and risk in the system will also be passed onto consumers.

JustaFarmer says the agriculture lobby is joined by the environmental lobby, which ties strings to crop subsidies:

One of the biggest reasons the farm bill continues to pass is the support of the environmental lobby for many provisions they have managed to include. Most programs now come with strings attached to prevent “sod busting” or “swamp-busting” or one of dozens of like provisions.

SoMuchIgnorance traces agriculture policy to the nation’s health:

Some subsidies cause and create behaviors that we want, and some that we don’t want. Actual policy requires that you look at the system you will have once you remove the subsidy. Is a subsidy for corn production beneficial? Maybe not. Sugar? No. Others, maybe.

JudyJupiter is the only one to argue for the farm bill without thinking it’s well-designed. The bill is essentially a quid pro quo in exchange for the SNAP, or food stamp, program, which spends the bulk of the bill’s money but is more precariously positioned because Congresstypes are not disproportionately among those who benefit from SNAP:

What’s upsetting to Lane is the bargaining, the trade off between Ag subsidies and food stamps. In fact, in the golden ages that everybody longs for but nobody actually remembers, these kind of deals were what propelled the US into greatness. What they lacked in idealistic purity, they more than gained in pragmatic success. These trade offs are exactly how bartering works. We need a farm bill precisely because the deal between the hungry and the food producers is the stuff of genius that has resulted in a super-successful agriculture industry and a strong safety net.

But on the plus side, a bill (that disproportionately personally benefits Congresspeople) will probably pass!