In the Two Minute Drill, we explain complex issues in politics in 250 words or less (roughly the amount of words it takes the average adult two minutes to read on a monitor). Politics just isn’t always that complicated. Without the fluff and partisan bias, even the most complex of our political differences can be explained succinctly. This week: corporate welfare and the farm bill.
There was an expressed feeling of pleasure and pride in Washington on Wednesday as a result of negotiations that produced a compromise farm bill. The bill faced stiff opposition in a divided Congress, with Democrats fending off Republicans who sought massive cuts in food stamps. After passage, the five-year bill now heads to the Senate, where approval seems certain. The White House said President Obama would sign it. But is it good policy?
The Explanation (250 or Bust)
On Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed a nearly $1 trillion farm bill by a vote of 251 to 166, ending an impasse on a piece of legislation that has been stalled in Congress for more than two years. The bill sticks it to the poor and cuts the food stamp program by about $8 billion over 10 years, but continues to heavily subsidize major crops – corn, soybeans, wheat, rice and cotton – while shifting many of those subsidies toward more rhetorically defensible insurance programs (even though these programs are largely out of control hand outs).
The farm bill is not about farms, even though policymakers like to talk about it that way. It is a giant welfare bill. Eighty percent of the bill goes toward food stamp and nutrition, and the rest is corporate welfare for the agribusiness industry. The bill has nothing to do with “struggling farmers.”
In fact, the farm bill subsidies disproportionately benefit the biggest and best-connected farms that know how to navigate the Washington maze. Seventy percent of all farm subsidy payments from 1995 to 2012 (178.5 billion of 292.5 billion) have gone to the richest 10 percent of farmers. And over that same period, the top 1 percent of farmers got nearly three times the subsidies than the bottom 80% combined.
Ending these subsidies should have been a cause that even the most conservative and most progressive members of Congress could take on together. Instead, its a stark reminder of this salient fact: Some may want smaller government, but only for other people.
Word Count: 250.
The Five Most Interesting Things We Read This Week
Here are the five most interesting articles (both political and non-political) we’ve read this week:
- “So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.” That, in many ways, was the key line in the State of the Union address given by a president who’s had little luck working with Congress. Read the transcript: President Obama’s 2014 State of the Union address.
- “The nature of the conduct at issue and the resultant harm compel this decision.” That’s Attorney General Eric Holder, explaining why U.S. prosecutors have made the decision to seek the death penalty against 20-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in the Boston Marathon bombing. From the AP: US Prosecutors Seek Execution of Marathon Suspect.
- “What happened in Atlanta this week is not a matter of Southerners blindsided by unpredictable weather. More than any event I’ve witnessed in two decades of living and writing about this city, this snowstorm underscores the horrible history of suburban sprawl in the United States and the bad political decisions that drive it.” Rebecca Burns in Politico: The Day We Lost Atlanta.
- “A major new study of more than 7,000 children has found that a third of children who were overweight in kindergarten were obese by eighth grade. And almost every child who was very obese remained that way.” Gina Kolata in The New York Times: Obesity Is Found to Gain Its Hold in Earliest Years.
- “Places of business were shuttered and communication systems overwhelmed as Americans, emerging from disoriented hazes this morning, stayed huddled in their homes and frantically sought to contact loved ones following the bizarre mass event. All across the county, unnerved citizens reportedly turned to their friends, neighbors, and even strangers for comfort as they sought to help each other comprehend and regroup from the perplexing circumstances that left them debilitated and entirely insensate for roughly a third of a day, while government officials have scrambled to address the crisis and urge calm among Americans.” From The Onion: Nation Terrified After Millions Lose Consciousness For 8 Whole Hours Last Night.
And in case you missed it, check out The Weekly Column. This past week explored the wonky topic of chained CPI. Read the Column – Chained CPI Explained.