As we predicted a few days ago, all the hype about the “dairy cliff” hitting consumers with sky-high milk prices after the New Year was nothing but a hoax. Soon after the ball dropped in Times Square, the House and Senate passed a fairly clean, business-as-usual extension of the 2008 farm bill, squashing the farm lobby’s quest to get a new five-year, trillion-dollar farm bill through on spilled milk. While simply extending the current Farm Bill with no new reforms is not ideal, Congress could have made things much worse for taxpayers by passing new profit margin guarantees for favored commodities like dairy or greatly expanded disaster assistance at the last minute with no opportunity for a full and open debate.
All the talk about the “dairy cliff” wouldn’t even be an issue if lawmakers simply repealed outdated permanent farm laws dating back to the Depression. Cynically trotting out the specter that the permanent law could come back to life is nothing more than a sad excuse for the farm lobby to pass new unnecessary subsidies that have nothing to do with modern agriculture. Rep. Peterson (D-MN), Ranking Member of the House Agriculture Committee, is already “freaking out” – in his own words - about the thought of another dairy cliff a year from now. If these outdated laws were simply repealed, he could sleep peacefully for the next 363 nights.
Equally as important as repealing permanent law is repealing direct payments, another outdated policy that’s been lining large agribusinesses’ pockets for decades with little to no public benefit. In the recent extension, direct payments were continued for another year even though virtually everyone – including farmers - agrees that they do more harm than good.
The new Congress has been gifted a lengthy to do-list. We need lawmakers to take time to digest record crop insurance subsidies and payouts before passing new, costlier subsidies that bow to special interests and shift unnecessary risks onto taxpayers’ backs. We hope the public will yet again see that instead of being “crippled”, agriculture will once again reap one of its best in a generation. And last but not least, we need Congress stops using budgetary gimmicks to pass provisions like this nine-month farm bill extension, and instead take into account all likely spending so we can get our nation’s finances under control. Shifting obligatory spending accounts to optional ones and masking the cost of agricultural entitlement programs only hides the realities of government spending from taxpayers’ sight.