NTU strongly urges all Representatives to vote “NO” on the conference report to H.R. 2, the 2018 Farm Bill. This legislation would expand welfare to the wealthy and pile more risk on taxpayers over and above the status quo, making it harder to achieve free market reforms in the future.
Going into farm bill consideration over a year ago, free market advocates came to the table with a modest request: that lawmakers adhere to the same principles of fiscal and individual responsibility and the inherent dignity of work across all titles of the farm bill. At the time, that meant that the laudable conservative push for work requirements for able-bodied Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients should also be applied to farm businesses, who despite a downturn in commodity prices still enjoy a household income significantly above that of the median American household.
Currently, loopholes in the law make it easy for farm businesses to “farm the program” under the auspices of “farm manager,” a role that can mean as little as joining a conference call on planting decisions or filling out paperwork. Increasingly, commodity subsidies have little to do with actual losses and more to do with who has the best accountants and lawyers. This does not make for an effective safety net that promotes market-based decision making and targets payments to those who need them most.
Instead of these commonsense limits, which had bipartisan support in both chambers, H.R. 2 contains multiple provisions that would expand subsidy payments to new groups (cousins, nieces, nephews), continue policies that favor certain crops and business models over others, and provide more opportunities for agribusinesses to maximize government payments (and with it opportunities for fraud and abuse). This is a major step backward after decades of incremental improvement toward a more free market, responsive system.
Despite suggestions from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Administration, and Congressional farm bill supporters that H.R. 2 achieves free market wins, specifically in terms of SNAP reform, the text says otherwise. Rather than commit to five years of policies that turn back the clock on welfare and crony capitalism, Congress should pass an extension and take the time to reexamine the farm bill.
By any estimate, deficits will once again explode in the coming year and our debt is increasingly unsustainable. Rushing this bill to the floor without a better understanding of the budgetary implications is deeply irresponsible.
Roll call votes on H.R. 2 will be heavily-weighted in our annual Rating of Congress.
(This vote alert has been updated to reflect that the House is now taking up this measure.)