July 31, 2007

FARMING THE GOVERNMENT:

Crop prices are high, driven in part by a huge demand for corn to make ethanol, which squeezes the land available for other crops and raises their prices as well. Democrats took over Congress last year, vowing to show they’re the financially responsible stewards their Republican predecessors were not. And President Bush asked Congress to direct the subsidies to the smaller, family farmers that politicians love to claim they support.

So, given this confluence of events, what did House Democrats do? Not much. Last week, under heavy pressure from farm organizations and fearing for the survival of Democratic freshmen from rural districts, they pushed through a business-as-usual farm bill that largely extends the current subsidy system for five more years. . . .

Most of the big money goes to just five crops: corn, wheat, cotton, soybeans and rice. The usual justification for the largesse is that farmers would go out of business without it. If that’s so, how do you explain that many other crops do quite well with little or none of the government help that goes to the favored five?

In addition to boosting just a few crops, the subsidies also favor a tiny sliver of the largest farms and agribusinesses: The top 10% of recipients get nearly three-fourths of subsidy payments, while the bottom 80% of recipients divide up a scant 12%.

Like the song says: “Welfare for white folks.” Make that rich white folks, mostly.