Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Subsidizing Success

    On Tuesday, Sallie James of the Cato Institute noted a recent endorsement of farm subsidies by Senator Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee:
“American agriculture represents a bright spot in our economy,” Chairwoman Stabenow said. “Agricultural exports are reaching record highs and American farmers and ranchers are continuing to outpace the rest of the world in productivity and efficiency. Sixteen million American jobs are supported by American agriculture, so it’s critical we pass the Farm Bill this year. We must provide farmers and small businesses the certainty they need to continue growing and helping the country’s economy recover.”
Despite the sometimes decidedly non-farmy uses of Department of Agriculture funds (as I noted here in April,) the Farm Bill is often treated as a sacred cow (or at least the family cow) even by conservative lawmakers who should know better.  Senator Stabenow, not to be confused with one of those conservatives, isn't a wholesale advocate of subsidies, however.  Back in 2011, here's what she had to say about oil company "subsidies":
“We’ve got to stop these taxpayer subsidies that adds insult to injury, when we’re paying the highest price at the pump and, at the same time, they have the highest profits ever,” said Stabenow. “It doesn’t make any sense. They don’t need it.”
I hope that some enterprising reporter gives Senator Stabenow the opportunity to harmonize her two subsidy positions.  In 2009, Cato put the annual farm subsidy cost at between $10 billion and $30 billion.  By contrast, in January 2011, President Obama proposed ending $4 billion in "subsidies and tax breaks" to oil companies.  At the time, the president said: "I don’t know if -- I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re doing just fine on their own."  To summarize: "American agriculture represents a bright spot in our economy" and oil companies are "doing just fine on their own" - so continue subsidies for one and eliminate them for the other?
    As I indicated, farm subsidies may be the closest thing to bi-partisanship that Congress manages to do.  And some people say bi-partisanship is what we need more of?  On the other hand, if both agriculture and oil companies are "doing fine" by this administration's standards, maybe dumping the subsidies isn't such a good idea after all.

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