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A Times Editorial

Fat farm bill gives welfare to well-off

While some farmers are getting record high prices for their crops, particularly corn and other grains, Congress wants to make them even richer at taxpayer expense. It's the latest version of what lawmakers euphemistically call the Farm Bill — more accurately Welfare for Agribusiness Millionaires. President Bush has threatened to veto the bill. He should.

At a cost of $300-billion, this bloated giveaway is 50 percent fatter than the one it replaces, at a time Americans are being told to tighten their belts. It rewards those who are already doing quite well on their own: More than half the subsidies would go to farms with average household incomes of $200,000, according to the Environmental Working Group. Those subsidies also threaten to derail international trade agreements when the economy is already suffering from a crippling trade imbalance.

At first, lawmakers pretended to get tough on farm subsidies. Then the farm lobby showed up. Under the bill's latest version, a farmer could make up to $750,000 a year in farm income or $500,000 in nonfarm income and still get an automatic payment of $40,000 (double that for a couple). The rest of us will have to settle for the one-time tax rebate of $600 apiece. And that's not the worst of the farm bill.

Some "farmers" who have never worn overalls and live in cities such as San Francisco, New York and Clearwater have found a way to collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in farm subsidies through sophisticated business structures, EWG reports. In fact, payments go to owners of land that is no longer used to grow crops.

Bush has rarely opposed an appropriation that rewards undeserving special interests. He did this time, calling the legislation a "massive, bloated farm bill that would do little to solve the problem (of high food prices)" and threatening to veto it. It's too bad because the farm bill also contains some desirable expenditures for nutrition programs and land conservation.

To attract enough votes to make the farm bill veto-proof, Congressional leaders had to load it down with giveaways for everyone. So "farmers" who breed race horses would get a tax break. And those "geographically disadvantaged farmers" in Alaska would get $15-million a year.

Now under the control of Democrats, Congress has proved to be no more responsible than when Republicans wrote the last farm bill. The Depression-era image of the struggling family farmer is no longer accurate, particularly in the middle of the country where corn, wheat and rice are grown. This is corporate welfare at its greediest.

With the threat of starvation around the world because of rising food prices and a growing budget deficit weighing on American taxpayers, you would think Congress would be shamed into ending wasteful farm subsidies. Then again, shame doesn't have a very strong lobby in Washington.

Fat farm bill gives welfare to well-off 05/08/08 [Last modified: Sunday, May 11, 2008 9:51am]
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