By Maggie Thurber | Special to Ohio Watchdog
COLUMBUS — U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-District 4, does not want the pending Farm Bill to pass.
During a conference call with bloggers Thursday, he said he would rather extend the current bill and put together a farm package next year that moves in a market direction.
The Farm Bill, a bundle of legislation covering agriculture, nutrition, conservation and forestry, comes before Congress every five years. The 2008 Farm Bill expires at the end of September. The U.S. Senate version of the bill, the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 (S. 3240), was passed in June. The House Agriculture Committee approved the House version, Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2012 (H.R. 6083) on Thursday.
Jordan’s main objection to the bill is the cost, noting that the 2008 bill was $600 billion and the current House bill is $1 trillion. “We have no money at a time when the fiscal situation is dire,” he said.
“It’s not really a farm bill. It’s a food welfare bill,” he added pointing out that 80 percent of the bill’s cost is for the food stamp program. “We’re in the unfortunate position where 1 in 7 in the nation thinks its OK for others to feed them.”
Phil Kerpen, president of American Commitment, a free-market public policy organization, who also participated in the call, said the number of Americans in the food stamp program was a critical point. “Congress needs to focus on job creation and getting people off food stamps rather than continuing an elevated level of funding” for the program, he said.
Kerpen also said the food stamp program should be separated from the Farm Bill. Jordan agreed, saying the main reason for combining the two topics was to get urban and rural votes. “This is done frequently to get votes and taxpayers wind up on the short end of the stick,” he said.
Kerpen and Jordan objected to the incentive program inherent in the food stamp program, though Jordan noted that there is no prohibition against using tax dollars for advertising and encouraging people to participate.
States are making changes in their eligibility because they get rewarded by the federal government to enroll more people, Jordan said. Kerpen said it’s wrong that a government agency thinks it’s their job to get more people dependent on government. “They’re actively trying to recruit college students to sign up,” he added.
Jordan said he preferred reforming the welfare system and making it a block grant to states. He also said he wants to set the funding at pre-recession levels and cap it along with including a work requirement. “During recessions, we expand who is eligible and increase spending and it never goes down after the recession is over,” he said.
Kerpen said the House bill includes $392 billion for the food stamp program, $70 billion more than was spent on the program over the past five years. “That’s a 22 percent increase,” he said, pointing out that spending for 2008-12 was $322 billion.
Jordan, who serves as chairman of the Republican Study Committee, is also concerned about the new Price Loss Coverage provision for farmers. The American Enterprise Institute, a think tank that promotes free markets, explained the House provision.
“When the market price for a commodity covered by the program falls below a new and, by historical standards, very high target price level, farmers will almost certainly get a payment for every acre they plant of that crop. The payment is driven by the difference between the target price and the market price and is likely to be very generous to farmers and expensive for taxpayers if market prices for a commodity simply equal their fifteen year historical average levels,” the institute said.
For the similar Senate provision, the institute said, “The proposed shallow-loss program would pay farmers automatic subsidies to bring them up to 90 or 95 percent of the average revenues they have received for any given crop over the previous five years. Payment triggers would be linked to prices and yields increases, creating a new partially disguised entitlement program that locks farmers into near-record incomes at the taxpayer’s expense.”
Jordan added that, “Government is going to set an arbitrary price and subsidize farmers if the price goes below that.”
Both versions of the Farm Bill set income limits for the subsidy program: $950,000 per year in the House and $750,000 per year in Senate, but, Jordan said, large farms that don’t need the subsidies usually get them.
Kerpen noted that there are “all kinds of farmers who are succeeding without subsidies and big government programs. The shallow-loss programs are taking the place of direct subsidies but are still impacting the market,” and driving up prices.
“Anytime government gets involved, it drives up the costs,” Jordan said, adding that the impact can be seen with student loans and the cost of education along with health care.
Jordan warned that the House and Senate bills are not dissimilar and that a deal could be struck to pass a measure before it expires. He noted that the bills passed in the House committee and the full Senate received bipartisan support. The House bill has not yet been scheduled for a floor vote.
“An extension (of the 2008 bill) is the best possible thing we can hope for now,” Jordan said. “When we get into next year, we can do real reform, but the key is to stop it now before it gets to the floor of the House,” he said. “When such bills happen just before an election, that’s when taxpayers get the shaft.”