Yesterday, the bipartisan Gang of Six senators, which includes two members of the Senate Agricultural Committee—Kent Conrad (D-North Dakota) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia)—turned tail and ran on the issue of farm subsidies in their three trillion dollar federal deficit reduction proposal. They recommended a $1 billion annual cut in total payments to farmers, a trivial amount relative to the $10 billion in annual government payments that could be saved without harming U.S. food production. Perhaps worse, they argued that the Senate and House agricultural committees could safely be relied on to make the appropriate cuts, presumably in the 2012 Farm Bill. Those are the committees who used highly creative accounting in the 2008 Farm Bill to avoid any substantial reductions in federal farm subsidy spending. If farm state congressional delegations and the farm lobby can use the Gang of Six’s recommendations as cover, many wasteful programs that mainly benefit large and wealthy farm households and landowners would be left in place for another five to eight years. And instead of contributing $100 billion to a ten-year deficit reduction plan, cuts in agricultural subsidies would make almost no contribution towards a more balanced federal budget.
Vincent Smith is an agricultural economist and professor at Montana State University.