Farm Subsidies May Finally Be Vulnerable

Today the Republican House did something that they might come to regret.  The “farm bill” is a periodically renegotiated and renewed piece of legislation that covers a grab-bag of policies that are vaguely related to agriculture.  The part nearest and dearest to Republicans’ hearts are farm subsidies, while the part that actually comprises the vast majority of the appropriations cover food stamps, or SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).  The two have traditionally been combined in order to form the broadest possible coalition; urban liberals desperately want to pass food stamp renewals, rural reps of all strips desperately want to pass farm subsidy renewals.

Today the Republicans passed a bill that only renews farm subsidies, leaving out food stamps.  Many Republicans desperately want to cut food stamps, and so a bill that had food stamp renewals failed in June.  The cuts meant Democrats withdrew, while it didn’t cut food stamps enough for some conservative Republicans.  So the House leadership thought to limit the bill solely to the issue that had broad support within their own caucus – lavish subsidies for wealthy farmers.  They are now going to head into negotiations with Democrats in which they threaten to kill food stamps entirely unless Democrats agree to deep cuts.  On the merits, this is monstrous policy – taking desperately-needed aid from America’s poorest while throwing more money at the most productive farmers in the world.  Liberals are panicked about the danger to food stamps.

However, on the upside this maneuver may ultimately endanger the viability of farm subsidies in the United States.  The bundling of food stamps and farm subsidies wasn’t just an accident – it reflects that farm subsidies are vulnerable.  The current farm bill passed by a narrow margin – 216 votes isn’t a huge margin, and I have a feeling that if and when Democrats regain the House they will have little interest in renewing a standalone farm subsidy bill.  This is why the farm lobby was deadset against such a separation.  So something good might come of this after all.


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