A recent item in The Hill, from Agriculture Energy Coalition’s Lloyd Ritter, called for passage of the Senate version of the Farm Bill, which amounts to little more than an expansion of the status-quo boondoggle we’ve seen for years:
Another simple extension of existing Farm Bill energy programs would ignore some important policy expansions contained in this year’s legislation and fail to make essential investments in rural energy infrastructure. The Senate’s version of this year’s Farm Bill Energy Title establishes long-overdue parity for renewable chemical manufacturers and includes $900 million in mandatory energy program funding. I encourage the conference committee to include these provisions in any final package.
Where to begin. For starters, $900 million in new spending of any sort should make any conservative cringe.
We’re more than $17.2 trillion in debt and facing a litany of other fiscal woes at the moment. Are expanding big government edicts in the energy sector really the right move?
In addition to piling on nearly $1 billion in new spending, the Senate Farm Bill designates the funds as mandatory spending, meaning government has mandated that amount be spent under its direction, and funding cannot be decreased or shifted if programs become unnecessary or ineffective. Mandatory spending does nothing to wean the energy and agricultural sectors off of governmental reliance.
According to Stephen DeMaura, a different path is outlined in the House’s counter-Farm Bill:
The House bill eliminates mandatory funding for subsidy programs under the energy title (Title IX), authorizing only discretionary spending for these programs that can be eliminated as market forces dictate, thus ending the practice of subsidizing billionaire agribusiness tycoons.
Ritter’s piece goes on to highlight several programs funded within the Farm Bill's energy title, arguing for their positive impact on rural communities and energy producers. It is a short-sighted view indeed to believe that a marketplace shackled by dependence on mandatory funding from Washington is a marketplace that will ever be self-sufficient and growth-oriented.
The House's discretionary and market-driven approach to appropriations, on the other hand, enables the phasing out of these subsides and allows taxpayers to save billions:
Enacting the House legislation and phasing out these energy title programs is projected to save $160 billion over the next decade – a drop in the bucket that is our $17 trillion national debt but an important step toward getting government out of private industry and one that would send a clear message to subsidy-seeking entities that the accountability-free cash register is closing.
It is incumbent on House and Senate Republicans (and Democrats interested in getting reelected) not to be deceived by liberal rhetoric on the Farm Bill; tacking the word "rural" in front of government spending is merely cloaking a wolf in sheep's clothing. This is a simple choice between scaling back government, saving billions, and charting a free market-based course forward versus continuing the failed practice of letting government pick winners and losers.