- The Washington Times - Friday, May 10, 2002

Once, when he was asked why he was running for president as an independent, Alabama Gov. George Wallace snarled that there wasn't "a dime's worth of difference" between the Democratic and Republican parties. Judging from their behavior in ramming the new farm bill through Congress, Wallace wasn't far from the mark, at least when it comes to approving boondoggles for wealthy agribusiness types. Only a veto of the farm bill from President Bush can redeem the reputation of the Republican Party on this issue.
Heritage Foundation budget analyst Brian Reidl estimates that the legislation, together with last year's farm insurance bill, will provide farmers with $191 billion in direct federal subsidies over the next decade. In addition, agricultural price supports contained in the bill will cost another $271 billion, bringing the total cost of this monstrosity to $462 billion during the next 10 years. And these estimates could prove to be too low, according to Mr. Reidl, because Congress has a longstanding pattern of underestimating the costs of farm legislation, in particular, the direct federal subsidies.
Mr. Reidl says the bill "reads like a Soviet-style five-year plan. It brings back centralized planning in agriculture." Because the subsidies contained in the legislation are considered trade-distorting practices, the legislation could lead to World Trade Organization sanctions against American farm products, which could have a devastating effect on U.S. exports. Like the recent protectionist concessions to steelworkers, the bill severely undercuts U.S. credibility on international free trade issues.
Nonetheless, there was strong, bipartisan support on Capitol Hill for the farm bill, which passed the Senate by a 64-35 vote on Wednesday, after the House of Representatives voted 280-141 for the measure last week. It's never a surprise to see liberal Democratic senators like Tom Harkin, Patrick Leahy, Paul Wellstone and Kent Conrad crowing before the cameras, as they were on Wednesday, about the latest drubbing they've administered to taxpayers. But, come to think of it, when it comes to this sort of corporate welfare for agribusiness, it's no great surprise to see many Republicans casting principle aside and supporting big government as well. Ordinarily responsible conservatives like Alabama Sens. Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, for example, headed for the tall grass on this bill, which increases price supports for grain and cotton farmers, reinstates subsidies for wool, honey and mohair and adds new subsidies for milk, peanuts, lentils and chickpeas.
Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, who is retiring, was among the few lawmakers willing to point out that the bill is "a grab bag of regional special interest" provisions. The president should find the fortitude to veto it.


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