House Republicans scored a major victory for transparent government when they passed a farm-only farm bill. For several decades, the farm bill reauthorization was coupled with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps. By separating food stamp spending out from agricultural subsidies, House members took a big step toward reversing the growing Washington habit of lumping into a giant bill lots of otherwise unrelated programs, thus making it more difficult to shine sunlight on each individual program for needed reform.
There was other good news in the revised farm bill, notably its termination of $5 billion in direct payments to farmers that previously was spent regardless whether the recipients actually were farmers or planted crops. The bad news, however, is the same bill replaced the wasteful direct payments program with increased spending on the subsidized crop insurance program. The bill creates a "shallow loss" program, which ties crop insurance compensation to the five-year average price for commodities. In other words, the program provides a way for farmers to shift the risks inherent in agriculture -- poor planting decisions, bad weather, mechanical failures -- to consumers. If this were computers instead of corn, shallow loss would use tax dollars to protect Silicon Valley from epic flops like Apple's Lisa and Microsoft's BOB.
Democrats see splitting the bill as an opportunity to paint House Republicans as uncaring toward the poor, saying that removing food stamps from the farm bill "is to dishonor the God who made us," as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said on the House floor. Left-leaning Mother Jones predicted the split would "doom" food stamps. "The problem is that this kind of draconian bill wouldn't pass the Senate, which passed a farm bill with a mere $4 billion in nutrition cuts," wrote MJ's Erika Eichelberger. "That means the food stamp program would end up hanging around unauthorized [meaning it would continue to be funded at current levels through appropriations bills]."
In fact, the food stamp program was helped, not harmed, by splitting up the farm bill. While the MJ crowd proclaimed doom, they neglected to mention that separating food stamps from the rest of the farm bill meant funding for the program remains at the present level, which is higher than what's proposed by either the Republican House or Democratic Senate farm bills. Food stamps are an entitlement program, so now they will be treated just like Medicare or Social Security, which don't require authorization every few years and never seem to be reformed no matter how much rhetoric is thrown around.
Splitting the farm bill will make food stamps more transparent and encourage Congress to have an open and honest discussion with the American people about the program -- something that also needs to happen with other entitlement programs. Regrettably, the House rushed through the farm-only portion, meaning that Americans did not get an honest debate over the shallow-loss crop insurance program and other forms of corporate welfare hidden in the measure. Even so, the revised farm bill represents positive change.