It has been estimated that the average American gains seven pounds during the holiday season. No wonder! There is a constant stream of delectable goodies that tempt us at preholiday parties. No Christmas would be complete without the annual cookie bake. Candy canes and fudge abound. Fruits and nuts go into Christmas stockings as well as the traditional cake. Then, there is the big feast on December 25.
A Christmas without all that food is hard to imagine. However, those who lived through the Great Depression know that, during the 1930s, many people in this country were without adequate nutrition. They went to bed hungry — not just on Christmas — but all though the year.
It is no accident that the Senate, playing on this old fear, passed the depression-era farm subsidy reauthorization bill as most of us were busy stuffing our faces. Farm subsidies were begun in the 1930s to help poor farmers, whose incomes were half of the national average, stay on the farm so the nation would have enough food. This succeeded in spades!
Today, more food is produced on less acreage than ever before and the average household income for farmers is around $83,000, well above the national average.
However, the majority of farm subsidies go to commercial farmers who have an average income of $200,000 a year and a net worth of nearly two million dollars.
The Department of Agriculture estimates that 2007 net farm income will reach a record $87.5 billion. A 48 percent increase over the 2006 level of $59 billion.
If ever there was a time to declare victory and end these programs it is now! However, first the House, now the Senate, did just the opposite: The Food and Energy Security Act, which will spend $286 billion of our hard-earned taxpayers’ dollars (and another $20 billion in budget gimmicks) over the next five years, actually expands subsidies for growers as well as food stamps for the poor.
Ah, more food stamps for the poor! If you can’t manage a tear for the nation’s fat-cat agribusinesses, then what about the poor?
Don’t fall for that one either. If you see someone malnourished in this country, it is not for a lack of food stamps. Today, the biggest health problem among those we deem to be poor is obesity!
Nevertheless, the hyperbole in the Senate ran deep:
Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) said,
We have a federal farm program to help family farmers make it through tough times.
Reality check: The programs now in place hurt those farmers by excluding them from most payments while financing the consolidation of farms which drive small family farms out of business.
Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) said,
I consider a safe, affordable and abundant food supply a critical national security interest and this bill takes us in the right director to ensure those priorities.
Reality check: Disaster was predicted for New Zealand in 1984 when it ended farm subsidies. The reverse was true. The value of New Zealand’s farm output has increased 40 percent in constant dollars since the mid-1980s and New Zealand’s farmers compete successfully in world markets against subsidized producers in much of the rest of the world.
Senator Tom Harkin, (D-Iowa) said,
It is a good bill – for rural America, for farmers and for everyone who eats food in this country.
Reality check: Farm subsidies cost taxpayers $25 billion a year and another $12 billion in higher food costs. It is a kick in the shins to the middle class and proof positive that a federal program is the closest thing on earth to eternal life.
A telling vote in the Senate was the defeat of an amendment that would have ended government subsidy payments to farmers earning more than $750,000 a year. The current cutoff is $2.5 million. The House version bars payments to those who earn an average of one million a year. Ah, such restraint!
So relax. If farm subsidies ended tomorrow your Christmas dinner (and all other dinners) would be safe!
A lump of coal in the stockings to the members of the House and Senate who voted in favor of the farm bill, and an extra candy cane to everyone who will encourage the president to veto this reverse Robin Hood.