President Obama is in Iowa this week to play farm politics, blaming Republicans for a legislative stalemate that is delaying drought relief in the parched Midwe st.
The all-powerful Paul Ryan, the President declared, is "standing in the way." That's a good one. The truth is that Mr. Obama has taken drought relief as a hostage in order to pass another trillion-dollar farm and food-stamp blowout.
Mr. Ryan's role, for the record, has been to call for reforms to a bloated farm program that today serves mainly to subsidize agribusiness and dispense food stamps.
The current farm bill is due to expire next month and the Senate passed its extension in June with 64 votes. But this is hardly something to cheer. The product of Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow and Kansas Republican Pat Roberts would cost nearly $1 trillion over 10 years.
Mrs. Stabenow claims the bill represents "significant reform," and it does eliminate some $5 billion in "direct payments"—handouts that go to growers whether they produce a crop or not. Instead, however, the Senate bill expands the government-subsidized crop insurance program. And the savings from ending direct payments are rolled into a new "shallow loss" program.
While crop insurance covers farmers with low yields or price declines, a shallow-loss program guarantees farmer revenues. Even at today's historically high crop prices, this program will cost taxpayers $3 billion. The American Enterprise Institute estimates that when prices inevitably fall, shallow-loss payments will balloon to as much as $14 billion a year.
The bigger embarrassment is the Senate's failure to address the out-of-control food stamp program, which will cost $770 billion over 10 years, or nearly 80% of farm-bill spending. Think about that one for a minute: Nearly $80 billion a year for a single welfare program. Food stamps have exploded under this Administration, with 44.7 million recipients in fiscal 2011, up from 28.2 million as recently as 2008. Yet the Senators passed only a token $4.5 billion cut in spending over 10 years.
Meanwhile, the House Agriculture Committee produced a bill that cut $16.5 billion over 10 years from food stamps. But this falls well short of reforms in the Ryan budget that would return food stamps to their pre-2008 spending levels as well as block-grant the money to states. Speaker John Boehner knew his pro-reform caucus would revolt on the floor against the committee product, and he chose not to bring it up for a vote.
Instead, the House passed a stand-alone $383 million emergency drought relief bill before it left for recess. The Senate could also have passed the relief measure and debated the $1 trillion farm bill another day, but Mrs. Stabenow and the White House blocked it. Why?
Well, Iowa is a swing state this year, and Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats figure they can use drought relief to force Republicans to lock in a decade worth of bigger government and record food-stamp spending.
The truth is that farmers and ranchers would already be getting drought relief if Mr. Obama weren't using them as pawns for his own re-election.
A version of this article appeared August 15, 2012, on page A12 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Obama's Iowa Hostage.
Source: Argentine Beef Packers S.A.
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