Jewish World Review
June 1, 2000 /27 Iyar, 5760
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- SLOP, SLOP, SLOP. Oink, oink, oink. Sooooooiee!
Those are the hog-heavenly sounds that reverberated last week from the halls of Congress, where a $15.3 billion farm aid bill passed overwhelmingly in both the House and Senate. It's a bipartisan spending boondoggle, special-interest payoff, and corporate welfare restoration act all rolled into one grease-slicked, lip-smacking package.
The legislation provides assistance to farmers who are purportedly poor and financially distressed by declining commodity prices, bad weather and shrinking overseas markets. More than $8 billion will be poured into the Federal Crop Insurance Program, which generously picks up more than half the tab for farmers' insurance premiums. Another $5.5 billion in direct payments will be sent to grain and cotton farmers this fall – just in time to reap votes during the 2000 election season.
And here a billion, there a billion was earmarked at the last minute for a bumper crop of "emergency" spending on congressional leaders' pet district projects.
Old MacDonald may be a nice guy, but there's no more good reason for taxpayers to subsidize his business's insurance than there is for the government to underwrite yours or mine. Yeah, bad weather is a bummer. But why should farmers get cheaper insurance rates – in addition to annual bailouts -- when disasters strike, and not all the other entrepreneurs who suffer from Mother Nature's whims, too?
Government audits and press investigations have exposed countless examples of fraud and abuse in the Federal Crop Insurance Program. Scam artists in overalls bilk the system by planting crops they know will die. A few years ago, the Wall Street Journal shed light on peanut and cotton farmers in Georgia who found that if they planted squash late in the growing season, frost would kill the squash and they could claim crop failures. Another infamous example cited by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch involved safflower farmers in Fresno, Kings and Tulare counties in California, who bought crop insurance on 150,000 acres of parched land. The crop was guaranteed to fail; the farmers claimed losses worth $15 million. The feds obligingly paid up.
To make matters worse, the General Accounting Office found that federal authorities allow some farmers to purchase crop insurance more than three months after planting crops. Imagine being able to buy government- subsidized auto insurance 90 days after you've crashed your car – or homeowners' insurance after your house has burned down in a fire. Instead of reforming the insurance program, however, Congress is extending it to cover livestock producers and expanding coverage for fruit and vegetable growers.
As in years past, the direct aid payments are sent out without regard to financial need. More than half of the $23 billion in agricultural aid spent between 1996 and 1998 went to landowners comprising the top 10 percent of American farms. It isn't destitute denizens from the heartland who are getting help. It's corporate freeloaders and wealthy recreationalists who benefit most from this bill.
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) personally requested $14 million that was included for an ethanol research plant. Ethanol, of course, is the corn-derived fuel produced primarily by food conglomerate Archer Daniels Midland and propped up by the government to the tune of billions of dollars. Then there's the restoration of federal subsidies to mohair and wool farmers, championed by Dem. Rep. Charlie Stenholm and GOP Rep. Henry Bonilla of Texas. When these World War II-era entitlements were axed during the glory days of the Republican Revolution, it was a proud moment for fiscal conservatives. Now the handouts are back and bigger than ever.
And who profits? Multi-millionaires like ABC News celebrity "farmer" Sam Donaldson, whose goat and sheep ranches in New Mexico have reaped nearly $100,000 in farm welfare.
The "Freedom to Farm" bill passed by the GOP majority in 1996 was supposed to drain the federal trough of wasteful agricultural subsidies, socialist price supports, and commodity programs. But the porkbusters turned soft when deep-pocketed farm interests came back to the Beltway, snorting and hoofing to get back on the dole. Only four senators -- Republicans Jon Kyl of Arizona, Connie Mack of Florida, John McCain of Arizona and Don Nickles of Oklahoma -- voted against the USDA-approved feeding frenzy last week.
Where were all the other fiscal hawks to snuff out this harvest of
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