Conservative groups to Congress: Farm bill must address commodity programs

A group of fiscally conservative political action organizations sent a letter May 2 to House members demanding reforms to crop insurance and other commodity programs.

The group, made up of the Campaign for Liberty, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Coalition to Reduce Spending, Club for Growth, Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, FreedomWorks, Heritage Action, Independent Women’s Forum, Independent Women’s Voice, John Locke Foundation, R Street Institute, Rio Grande Foundation, Taxpayers for Common Sense and the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, says they represent million of members, supporters and activists coming together to urge all House members to play a leading role in making major reforms to the out of control farm subsidy system.

“The House Agriculture Committee farm bill, which is expected to be debated on the House floor in May, is unacceptable,” the letter states. “It not only fails to make reforms to farm subsidies, but actually makes the subsidies even worse. For example, it creates new ways to funnel more money to agricultural producers, including to individuals who do not even farm.”

The groups concerns about farm subsidies go well beyond what they say are excessive and unjustified costs to taxpayers.

“Subsidy reform is so important to our organizations because the existing subsidy system violates the most basic principles of conservatism, including a belief in free enterprise and limited government. There is nothing conservative about:

Cronyism. Our nation’s so-called safety net is not really about protecting agriculture so much as protecting a small number of producers, usually the largest operations, growing a small number of commodities.

Waste. Most agriculture receives little to no subsidies and succeeds without federal intervention. Yet, for some producers of favored commodities, subsidies flow to them through multiple programs.

Central Planning. In 2018, it is hard to believe that the federal government dictates how much of a commodity can be sold, yet this is a key feature of the federal sugar program.

Promoting Dependence. The current subsidy system creates dependence on federal handouts, instead of empowering individuals to succeed on their own.”

The letter added: “Agricultural special interests would have you believe that daring to touch farm subsidies is somehow anti-farmer. Since when do conservatives think that promoting our principles is harmful to Americans, including farmers? It is by promoting our principles that we will best help those small number of producers receiving subsidies. Quite simply, respect for farmers doesn’t mean tolerance for wasting taxpayer money on handouts.”

The group listed reducing premium subsidies, placing a cap on Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage costs, reforming the sugar program, prohibiting protection against shallow losses, requiring producers to choose between ARC/PLC and crop insurance, and strengthening means testing and payment limits as reforms they could support. “Many of these reforms have been included in the Trump administration budgets, identified by the Government Accountability Office, introduced in bipartisan legislation, and/or passed by the House,” the letter said.

“Our organizations are taking farm subsidy reform very seriously in the upcoming farm bill debate. We look forward to working with you to provide more details about reforms and to create a truly conservative and free-market farm bill.”

A day later, two other conservative groups, Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Partners, sent a similar letter to House members, saying the farm bill debate comes on the heels of “the reckless budget deal and the irresponsible omnibus bill recently passed by Congress. Runaway spending is already unsustainable and increasingly a concern for many Americans. Congress should undertake a fundamental re-assessment of all government programs, including those for agriculture and nutrition programs, and respect American taxpayers by putting them on a fiscally-responsible path. The farm bill should not be an exception.”

The two groups approved parts of the bill as presented by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-TX, including reforms to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, that they said would, “help preserve taxpayer resources for those who need benefits the most and institute stronger work requirements to help the least fortunate to move themselves out of poverty. Changes along these lines were successful in welfare reform, and should be an element of reform consistent across anti-poverty programs.

“But then the bill redirects savings from the SNAP reforms into unsuccessful training programs. These programs have a poor track record for delivering results to help prospective workers gain employment or increase their earnings and improve their well-being.”

The two groups called the other titles of the proposed farm bill dealing with commodities, conservation and trade, “subsidies, marketing orders, quotas, and tariffs … rife with corporate welfare and, according to the American Enterprise Institute, primarily benefitting very wealthy owners of large farm businesses at the expense of ordinary taxpayers and consumers. Regrettably, badly needed reforms here are entirely absent.

“These lavish programs already vastly exceed a reasonable safety net, yet this bill expands them further. For example, according the Environmental Working Group, each family member in a family-owned farm can now collect subsidies worth up to $125,000 per year. They don’t even have to live or work on the farm. This bill expands those subsidies by allowing cousins, nieces, and nephews to qualify. The bill also makes it easier for multiple owners of large farm corporations to receive subsidies.

The two groups lauded President Donald Trump’s proposed budget plan as it “made a number of commonsense recommendations for reform, such as limiting crop subsidy eligibility for wealthier farmers, reducing subsidies to crop insurance companies, and eliminating payment limit loopholes, among others. But not one of the president’s agriculture proposals made it into this bill. This isn’t acceptable. Including any or all of these proposals would have been a positive down payment on transforming farm policy to get the federal government out of the farming business.

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“Reforms are needed on both sides of the farm bill—not just SNAP. We stand ready to work with lawmakers to ensure that reforms that will abolish corporate welfare, preserve resources for those who truly need it, and prioritize taxpayers, are included in both sides of the farm bill.”

Larry Dreiling can be reached at 785-628-1117 or [email protected].