The House and Senate are struggling to negotiate terms of a new $1 trillion “farm” bill that would subsidize an array of commodities as well as regulate food stamps. Many of the agriculture giveaways are well known, including crop insurance, price supports, and conservation payments. But there are also some surprises buried within the Senate and House legislation (1,163 pages and 608 pages, respectively) that bring new meaning to the term “special interest.”
- Underpants. Both bills provide for “Economic Adjustment Assistance” that would pay domestic manufacturers of cotton products $66 for each ton they use of “upland cotton”—the most common type of the fiber grown in the United States. (Nearly 8 billion pounds of upland cotton were harvested last year.) Past recipients have included global underwear purveyor Fruit of the Loom and other clothiers.
- Cow flatulence. “Conservation Innovation Grants” are proposed in both versions of the legislation to stimulate the development and adoption of conservation approaches and technologies. The grants have included $1,055,996 to the Unison Resource Company, San Francisco Carbon collaborative, and EcoAnalytics to prevent global warming by reducing intestinal methane emissions from cattle.
- Goat manure. Lawmakers in both chambers are seeking $200 million for “Value-Added Producer Grants.” Previous projects include transforming goat manure into “biochar” (a.k.a. charcoal) to mitigate global warming. Said biochar is buried to eliminate the greenhouse gas emissions that would otherwise occur from the natural degradation of goat manure.
- Christmas trees. The House bill would lift the “administrative stay” that was imposed in November 2011 on a new Christmas tree tax. This would free the Obama Administration to impose a tax of 15 cents per tree on sellers to support a marketing program for enhancing the image of the industry.
- Solar power. The Senate would provide $100 million and the House $225 million for the “Rural Energy for America” program. Recipients have included the Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center in Patagonia, Arizona, which was awarded $45,263 to install a solar energy system. The center is dedicated to “whole-person enlightenment” under the direction of an ordained rabbi, “acknowledged” yogi, and four-year Native American Sundancer. (Just FYI: The body-cleansing regimen starts at $3,159.)
- Ultra-high speed broadband. Both bills propose subsidies for “Access to Broadband Telecommunications Services in Rural Areas.” The Senate would double the current spending—to $250 million—and include subsidies for “ultra-high speed broadband.” The House proposes to maintain spending at $125 million.
With a national debt of more than $17 trillion, Americans cannot afford such farm bill profligacy. For all the talk about improving the lot of the middle class, lawmakers and the Obama Administration could actually accomplish something tangible by stripping the farm bill of such egregious subsidies.