Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Transparency: So There's Apparently a "Secret Farm Bill"

This news is not - I repeat, not - from The Onion:
Lawmakers on the House and Senate Agriculture committees are trying to write a new five-year farm bill through the supercommittee process.

The legislators are using the supercommittee to avoid what would be a more public, election-year debate in 2012, when the current farm bill expires and new legislation would be scheduled for writing, according to critics of the effort.

“We call it the secret farm bill,” said one environmental activist, who worries that if the lawmakers succeed, it will prop up U.S. farm payments through 2017....

While some of the changes lawmakers are expected to propose would save billions on paper, critics say the new farm payments could balloon in cost if commodity prices fall.

Opponents also worry the lawmakers are trying to get around longtime critics of the farm bill who for years have said the legislation is a symbol of waste that costs taxpayers money while hurting farmers in poor countries who do not receive similar levels of support....

“That is the last thing we want, to authorize multiyear programs through this process. I am worried,” Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said. "Their mission is to cut."

An advantage of locking in the changes through the supercommittee is that the panel’s recommendations must get an up-or-down vote in Congress. That would give less leverage to opponents of farm subsidies.

Ben Becker, a spokesman for the Senate Agriculture Committee, defended the effort to propose farm bill changes to the supercommittee.

“Either the supercommittee would in essence write the Farm Bill, with no hearings or public input, or the Agriculture Committees and the communities we represent would have a voice. Democrats and Republicans are working hard within the process that’s been imposed on us to develop a sound bipartisan and bicameral recommendation that members of both parties can support,” he said.
Becker's irrational non-statement aside, it's completely true that America's bloated, irrational and WTO-inconsistent farm subsidies have broad, bi-partisan support, particularly among perpetually-campaigning farm state politicians (gee, I wonder why?).  Yet, just like Congress, farm subsidies are also increasingly unpopular.  (Coincidence?  I think not.)  So what this new "secret" plan really boils down to is a bunch of desperate, farm-subsidy-loving Members of Congress seeking to avoid election-year scrutiny by circumventing the very public legislative process that they've been elected to follow in order to quietly enrich their domestic constituents.  They funnel all that sweet, sweet taxpayer money out of Washington, yet avoid the increasingly-bright spotlight that (fortunately) accompanies such fiscal profligacy.

The United States Congress, ladies and gentlemen.

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