THE House and Senate have agreed on a farm bill that would reverse a six-year experiment to let markets, rather than government, decide the direction of US agriculture. (See story, page 1.)
As a result, taxpayers will likely pay out more than $50 billion in additional subsidies to mainly the richest and largest farms. Congress rejected the Bush administration's market approach as the two political parties want to win elections in farm states this fall and tip the balance of power in the two chambers.
In pursuing farm votes and agribusiness campaign money, Congress not only hits up taxpayers for more money. It also continues the destructive practice of keeping farmers on the dole and throws fiscal discipline to the wind.
The bill also expands the market-altering price compact that props up the nation's less efficient dairy farmers. One redeeming item in the bill is funding to reduce pollution runoff from farms.
President Bush, who remained silent during this debate, will likely sign the measure, reluctantly. It contains a pro-Hispanic item allowing immigrants who have lived in the US for five years to receive food stamps.
This bill isn't just for one year. It sets the spending pattern through 2008, which will be a big election year.
The 1996 law that took a market approach to farm supports failed in the face of declining food prices and rising farm lobby pressure. Real reform will need to come another day.