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Kill the Farm Bill

9:20 AM, Aug 6, 2012 • By ELI LEHRER
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The best possible farm bill—which probably could not get more than a smattering of support—would return SNAP to the rules, regulations, budgets, and eligibility standards of the middle part of the last decade while phasing out both direct payments to farmers and all subsidies for crop insurance. With some small tweaks, in fact, private companies that now service and assume some risk for crop insurance could begin to underwrite policies for farmers without subsidies.

More realistically, however, Congress should at least try not to make things worse. If lawmakers remain intent on a SNAP far bigger than its historical size, caps on the budget and block grants to the states might rein in the program’s growth while still fulfilling its goals. Likewise, if it goes ahead with the awful idea of guaranteeing farmers’ profits through shallow loss coverage, Congress should mitigate negative consequences by adding more conservation compliance rules for those who get subsidies and including Senate-passed provisions that forbid agricultural subsidies to help farmers “break in” previously unfarmed swamps and grasslands. (The latter is good policy regardless.)

Ultimately, the foundation of America’s agricultural subsidy system is so rotten that no incremental reform could ever give the nation a sensible farm policy. With luck, Congress will ditch the FARRM Act and start over from scratch.

Eli Lehrer is president of R Street.

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