The House Agriculture Committee endorsed a letter this week to Budget Chairman Paul Ryan arguing that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which helps low-income Americans purchase food, would make a better target for cuts than automatic subsidies to farms.
The move comes as food prices are rising — the Department of Agriculture expects overall food prices to rise 3 percent to 4 percent this year — making it harder for the beneficiaries of SNAP to stretch their existing benefits, even as farmers profit from the tightening market. Critics across the political spectrum have called agricultural subsidies wasteful and unnecessary, and they question the logic of maintaining them as lawmakers hunt for budget cuts.
“Conspicuously missing from the list of mandatory spending cuts the Agriculture Committee has made or is proposing to make are commodity subsidies, and specifically the $4.9 billion in direct payments that are automatically paid out each year regardless of whether a person farms,” said Jake Caldwell, the director of agricultural policy at the left-leaning Center for American Progress. “It is shortsighted of the Committee to suggest cuts to SNAP, particularly as food prices are on the rise, Americans are spending more than 10 percent of their household budget on food, and more people are enrolled in the food stamp program than ever before.”
President Obama has endorsed cuts in agricultural subsidies as a way to lower the deficit without targeting essential programs, and lawmakers from both parties, like Ryan, R-Wis., have expressed similar opinions.
But the Agriculture Committee is dominated by members of Congress from farm states; Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., has reported $445,714 in political contributions from the agricultural industry during the course of his career, and ranking Democrat Collin Peterson of Minnesota reports $809,097 in career donations.
From CBO (January 2011):
Mandatory spending for agricultural support totaled
$15 billion in 2010 and is projected to average about that
amount in each year between 2011 and 2021. That
spending will dip in 2012, to about $13 billion, largely
because of changes in the timing of payments for crop
insurance and commodity programs that were mandated
in the 2008 farm bill. …
Some discussion of the distribution of support from ag subsidies (including the number of millionaire recipients) in this GAO study entitled “USDA Needs to Strengthen Controls to Prevent Payments to Individuals Who Exceed Income Eligibility Limits”.
My first published paper, on Capture and Ideology in American farm policy (with Peter Navarro).