A new federal farm bill, years in the making, failed to pass the House last week in a manner emblematic of the federal government’s current gridlock. Party extremists on both sides again showed they have the power to tie Congress in knots.
When the inaction prevents expansion of federal powers and spending, there is something to say for it.
But when it perpetuates an unaffordable process, the national interest is the loser.
The clear national interest is to bring federal spending under control. Unfortunately, the winners in the farm bill fiasco were the defenders of the profligate status quo.
According to The Washington Post, conservative Republican legislators thought the bill, at a 10-year estimated cost of over $900 billion, was too expensive.
Meanwhile, liberal Democrats voted against the bill because it tightened eligibility for food stamps and reduced that program’s explosive growth (see letter to the editor on this page). The joke on the conservatives who deserted their leadership to vote against the bill is that the current system, represented by farm and food stamp bills already on the books, is more costly than the bill they defeated.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the farm bill would have cost $33.4 billion less than the status quo. This estimate does not include provisions added on the House floor aimed at savings in the food stamps program.
The case for tightening food stamp eligibility lies in the near doubling of the number of persons receiving food stamps since 2007.
The annual cost of the program more than doubled, from $35 billion a year to $80 billion last year, according to CBO, which also forecast only a modest decline in the program’s case load in the coming decade as the economy improves.
Conservatives were right to question the wisdom of spending nearly a trillion dollars on farm subsidies in the next decade, not to mention nearly as much again on food stamps. But their unwise decision to oppose the bill will result in higher, not lower farm and food security costs.