WASHINGTON – A bill as large as Obama's healthcare law might pass by, unnoticed. On Tuesday, the Senate Agriculture Committee approved the Farm Bill, a $955 billion over 10 years reform measure aimed at food stamps and farm subsidies.
With the House bill at $940 billion and the Senate version costing $955 billion, "there is certainly not another single bill that Congress will pass this year that spends that kind of money," Andrew Moylan, outreach director and senior fellow at the R Street Institute, told The Christian Post on Tuesday. Despite the bill's size, he thinks Americans will ignore it.
"Ultimately, it seems kind of esoteric," Moylan explained. "When you're talking about complicated loan guarantee programs, it's enough to make everybody's eyes glaze over."
The farm bill, reauthorized every five years, is the main federal government policy regarding agricultural and food policy, including the food stamp program.
Daren Bakst, research fellow in Agricultural Policy at the Heritage Foundation, said on Tuesday at an event hosted by the conservative Heritage Foundation that calling it the farm bill is "misleading" because "it's more of a food stamp bill that has farm components to it."
The Heritage Foundation's most recent report states, "the vast majority of spending – about 80 percent in the 2008 bill – is dedicated to food stamps and other nutrition programs."
If he could change one policy in the farm bill, Bakst told CP he would separate the farm bill from the food stamps. "That way you can have an honest discussion of both programs, and not combine them," he said.
Moylan, at the same Heritage Foundation event, laid out one of the "Terrible Twelve" policies in the Farm Bill: Federal Crop Insurance. In 2012, taxpayers spent more than $14 billion subsidizing agriculture businesses buying crop insurance. He told CP that this money helped make 2012 "a record farm income year" despite historic drought.
He said that if he could implement one reform, it would be "means testing," making sure that crop insurance only goes to the people who need it. "If you're a large company with millions of acres, you wouldn't receive it, but if you're an individual who operates a family farm, then you would be able to," he explained. He would make sure that only operations making $250,000 or less per year would receive federal insurance.
The current system involves "corporate welfare," Moylan alleged. Trade promotion programs fund big organizations to market their goods outside the U.S. "We're spending large sums of money to subsidize export production for very large, capable companies that should be able to market their own products."
He also cited a study from the Government Accountability Office, which found that a $40,000 cap on premium subsidies to farmers would save taxpayers $1 billion in 2011 alone.
Moylan focused on these reforms to farm subsidies. "Republicans already agree we need to make the food stamp side of the bill less expensive and more targeted," he explained. "The agriculture side – that's where Republicans need more convincing."
He also expressed the evils of wasteful government. "I think we have an obligation to be good stewards of people's hard earned dollars and cents." Government must use taxpayer dollars to help the poor – "make sure that the safety net is targeted at protecting the least among us instead of promoting the largest agri-business."
But Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) praised the farm bill's "significant savings" of $24 billion over 10 years, and said that "because the Agriculture Committee worked across party lines to streamline programs, we were able to save tax dollars while investing in initiatives that help boost exports, help family farmers sell locally and spur innovations in new bio-manufacturing and bioenergy industries," according to The New York Times.
Yet it seems that even Stabenow's fellow Democrat, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), is not convinced about the bill's $4.1 billion cuts to the food stamp program. "I don't believe that we should balance the debt on the backs of families who are just hungry," Gillibrand said.
The farm bill is now advancing in the House and is expected to reach the House floor next month.