- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 21, 2002

Five hundred and eighty billion dollars will buy a lot of farmland. In fact, it's enough to buy every acre of land in Iowa eight times over. While it's not certain why anyone would want to buy Iowa, or what they would do with it once they did, taxpayers ought to start thinking in that direction.

That's because they are almost certain to purchase those farms, thanks to a compromise agriculture bill currently being crafted in a House-Senate conference. While the particulars of the House and Senate bills vary, both would authorize an astonishing $578.5 billion in new spending over the next decade.

That's on top of the $92 billion in subsidies that the Department of Agriculture paid out to farmers over the past five years. Between 1997 and 2012, taxpayers will pay out enough in subsidies to have purchased (assuming each acre costs the same as Iowa farmland) almost the entire Midwest Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Wisconsin and Ohio. Yet, instead of gaining property rights to scenic wonders like the Greyhound Bus Museum (which is located in Hibbing, Minn., and is taxpayer-subsidized) or the National First Ladies Library (which is located in Canton, Ohio, and is also taxpayer-subsidized), taxpayers instead stand to gain the warm, fuzzy feeling that comes from giving financial aid to Fortune 500 companies.

That's right. In a recent commentary on ABC television's "This Week," columnist George Will noted that over the last five years, 15 companies on the Fortune 500 list received farm subsidies, including Chevron, John Hancock Insurance Co. and Caterpillar. At least Caterpillar machines will be able to farm the land that taxpayers will be subsidizing. Many poor farmers clearly won't, because as Mr. Will pointed out, there are five million fewer farms now than there were when farm subsidies started in the 1930s. And while small farmers have, well, bought the farm, additional handouts have proliferated like barnyard flies. Both the House and Senate bills contain subsidies for more products than even Old McDonald himself could name. Unsurprisingly, the Senate managed to pass an even more ill-advised bill than the House, thanks to a provision for $2 billion in funding for Sen. Jim Jeffords' pets: dairy farmers.

This legislation is so ill-advised that it has been denounced by editorial pages across the country even The Washington Post has run editorials excoriating legislators for passing such obscene, self-defeating subsidies. While President Bush has indicated that he found most of the provisions of the House bill acceptable, he should keep his veto pen handy. Mr. Bush may be the only one in Washington who can stop taxpayers from being compelled to buy the farm.

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