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As Progressive members of Congress defend against Corporate attacks on government social safety nets that millions of Americans rely upon, it's about time we highlighted programs that actually should be cut or seriously redesigned.

Farm subsidies fit the bill perfectly, crop insurance especially.

Unlimited crop insurance subsidies now cost the taxpayer $9 billion a year and overwhelmingly flow to the largest and most successful farm businesses. Unlike other farm subsidies, crop insurance subsidies are not subject to means testing or payment limits and farmers are not required to adopt basic environmental protections in exchange for premium support from the taxpayer. While some farms annually collect more than $1 million in crop insurance premium support, the bottom 80% of policyholders annually collect about $5,000.
Millions of those dollars go to some of the wealthiest people in the country.
Between 1995 and 2012, these 50 people—who have have a collective net worth of $316 billion—received $11.3 million in farm subsidy payments. They've probably have even received more in crop insurance payments, but we don't know because the law doesn't allow prohibits the disclosure of the identities of crop insurance policyholders.
While farm subsidies are meant to help poor farmers, in practice it has had the opposite effect.
Many counties where federal crop insurance subsidies rose between 2008 and 2012 also had an increase in poverty over that period, a finding that undermines the oft-repeated arguments that farm subsidies help reduce rural poverty, an Environmental Working Group analysis shows.
In addition to failing in its initiative to help struggling farmers domestically, farm subsidies contribute to global food insecurity and harm the environment through overproduction of crops.

As if the questionable results of farm subsidies weren't wasteful enough, Congress is considering making changes that would likely make farm subsidies even more costly and disparate.

As Congress looks to finally wrap up the lengthy legislative battle over the farm bill in January, a central point of bipartisan consensus on agriculture policy is ending a misguided subsidy program. But if it replaces the program with beefed up crop insurance subsidies and price supports, it won’t reduce the risks taxpayers bear and could keep funneling money into undeserving pockets.

Even though farm subsidies enjoy wide bipartisan support, cutting them should also be a stance that has proponents on both sides of the aisle. One need only look at the calls for reforming farm subsidies coming from the Conservatives' own think tanks.

And even though Congress continues to favor generous farm subsidies, polls show that most Americans oppose them.

As many people know, for quite awhile now farm subsidies and food stamps have been lumped together in the same huge budget bills. This has led to unnecessary hardship for Americans who seriously need the SNAP assistance but watched their well-being sacrificed to political manoeuvring. As the costly farm subsidies become more and more indefensible, it's time we once again look at the rationale for this approach, and for the farm subsidies as well.

In all likelihood, the costs of farm subsidies on the overall health of our economy are underestimated, especially when we consider how many other programs that spending could go towards. We have to start looking at farm subsidies more critically.

The Republican Party is increasingly becoming a one-issue party: cut spending. The few exceptions seem to be military spending, and farm subsidies. As a result, the Democratic Party is often left to defend against attacks against government spending in practically all its forms, but most often, the social safety nets that the most needy Americans rely upon. Because of this, there are few areas, other than military spending, that Democrats can actually offer up in budget negotiations where they are willing to cut spending. This hurts the overall image of the party as well, as it is increasingly attacked as defending government spending, no matter how wasteful. Farm subsidies are actually a program that actually fits that narrative, but it's also currently a Republican as well as Democrat favorite. If Democrats were to get behind cutting and/or seriously reforming farm subsidies, so it actually helps the small American farmer, the Democratic Party would suddenly have an issue where it could simultaneously demonstrate integrity, on addressing a wasteful spending program, and attack Republican hypocrisy, for refusing to address the same.

It's true that we should be helping out our poor working farmers, just as much as the Democratic Party is dedicated to helping our poorest Americans in general. However, farm subsidies, as we currently dispense them, likely do more harm than good. However useful they sound in theory, and however popular they are with the governing elite, we also can't ignore what the preponderance of evidence says about farm subsidies. At the end of the day, sound policy must be based on evidence and substance, not politics and opinion.

To quote my favorite physicist Richard Feynman, "reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled."

Farm subsidies amount to little more than a corporate hand out, artificially distort agricultural prices, and do little to help actual farming families, especially when the government could be spending that money on programs that would help far more Americans as a whole.

Poll

Democrats should

93%27 votes
6%2 votes

| 29 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (8+ / 0-)

    "In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.” -Confucius

    by pierre9045 on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 02:15:02 PM PST

  •  Cutting this pork is good in itself... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    salmo, annieli, pierre9045, divineorder

    ...but it's also a good way to split Republicans.  I think Rand Paul would be on our side--or, perhaps more accurately, we'd be on his side--and that would certainly reap some interesting dividends.

    It's not the side effects of the cocaine/I'm thinking that it must be love

    by Rich in PA on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 02:17:08 PM PST

  •  I'd propose going after the Oil Depletion Alowance (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Odysseus

    first. That's $4billion going to the most profitable businesses on earth.

    If I ran this circus, things would be DIFFERENT!

    by CwV on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 02:21:31 PM PST

    •  CwV - help me understand the oil depletion (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      nextstep

      allowance. I thought that if an oil company bought $100 million of reserves as they pump oil out of that field they get to deduct some fraction of that initial cost each year as the oil depletion allowance. Is that true or do I not understand this correctly? The $100 million has to be written off against the oil revenues in some fashion just like the cost of goods for a manufactured product. Do the oil companies get to write off the $100 million and something in addition beyond the actual cost of developing, pumping and transporting?

      "let's talk about that"

      by VClib on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 02:46:09 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'm not an expert on this, by any means (0+ / 0-)

        and I'm sure someone here at dKos is, but from what I gather it's a form of subsidy.
        Here's the wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/..._(accounting)

        Cost depletion is an accounting method by which costs of natural resources are allocated to depletion over the period that make up the life of the asset. Cost depletion is computed by (1) estimating the total quantity of mineral or other resources acquired and (2) assigning a proportionate amount of the total resource cost to the quantity extracted in the period. For example, Big Texas Oil, Co. discovers a large reserve of oil. The company has estimated the oil well will produce 200,000 barrels of oil. The company invests $100,000 to extract the oil, and they extract 10,000 barrels the first year. Therefore, the depletion deduction is $5,000 ($100,000 X 10,000/200,000)
        As soon as it gets to accounting rules, MIGO. Maybe you can make sense of it.
        It just seems wrong that the most profitable companies on earth get subsidy/tax breaks while Unemployment (and every other social good) is being cut.

        If I ran this circus, things would be DIFFERENT!

        by CwV on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 02:59:58 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  MEGO , My Eyes Glaze Over, not MIGO (0+ / 0-)

          (dont even try to make sense of that one).

          If I ran this circus, things would be DIFFERENT!

          by CwV on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 03:01:29 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  I think I was correct (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          nextstep

          this is just deducting from revenue the cost of the material and no different that if a manufacturing company purchased a machine and depreciated the cost of that machine over five years or its useful life.

          When a business spends cash to purchase an asset it will resale it is common sense accounting that they will be able to deduct the cost of that asset over some reasonable period of time. That's basic Accounting 101.

          I don't see what the issue is on oil depletion and why anyone would think it was a subsidy, it's not.

          "let's talk about that"

          by VClib on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 03:24:00 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  You want to win Senate seats in IA and MN in 2014? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wilderness voice

    Messing with the agricultural economy is no winner out here.  If we have to put up with east coast warmongers like Warner and Schumer and the rest of them lobbying for the MIC, you're just going to have to put up with farms.  At least we don't grow bombs.

    •  You obviously frame the issue in a relevant light (0+ / 0-)

      Would you agree that farm subsidies, as the US Congress currently appropriates them, needs to be reformed?

      Most of us here on this site are naturally interested in the political stakes involved in any issue, so the question you raise is indeed a good one.

      However, there comes a time when political convenience and reality are in stark contrast.

      What we currently have is a hugely wasteful farm subsidy program, especially crop insurance, that benefits the wealthy more than the poor. Farm subsidies, as we currently experience them, do not live up to their promises. However, addressing this risks alienating a constituency dead set against any of the mentioned reforms, like you point out.

      Should Democrats avoid this clear disparity in Progressive policy because of the political ramifications? Or should they stand for what the evidence shows and make a statement about their principles?

      Making such a stand may jeopardize the Democrats' standing in these places like you say. However, I think not making such a stand could be more costly, if the party fails to uphold the base's trust in the Democratic party's credibility across the entire country.

      I refer back to the Feynman quote.

      "In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.” -Confucius

      by pierre9045 on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 06:27:46 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Don't cut them, reform them (8+ / 0-)

    You'd be surprised at how much generic dairy (the cheese on your Big Macs, etc) still comes from family farms, and how many huge corporations still source their products from companies who rely predominately on local farms.

    I really dislike it when topics like agriculture come up on this site because most people here don't truly understand the business.

    P.S. I am not a crackpot.

    by BoiseBlue on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 02:26:58 PM PST

    •  I agree, reform is probably better than cut (0+ / 0-)

      Ensuring that the subsidies help the small, family-owned farms, either through means-testing or other criteria, would be preferable. Especially when it comes to remaining competitive in a business dominated by large corporations with far more lobbying power to serve their own interests.

      And we should look into other ways to help small farms other than subsidies, for example what Bill de Blasio is doing, encouraging farmer's markets and other creative ways for small farms to remain viable.

      However, before we can make much headway into these areas, one of the first things that has to be addressed is the increasingly disparate way the current farm subsidies programs goes to the largest, wealthiest farms, and how the family farms you want to protect see little to no benefits.

      "In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.” -Confucius

      by pierre9045 on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 06:12:17 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  The main purpose of crop insurance and price (0+ / 0-)

        supports is not as an anti poverty measure but as a counter cyclical regulator of agricultural prices.

        They may need reform, even extensive reform, but they are the main reason post-depression 20th/21st century agriculture has not suffered the repeated boom and bust cycles of the 19th and early 20th.  Those massive fluctuations caused much suffering, unpredictability in both the economy and the food supply, and the loss of many farms on each successive downswing.

        We are the principled ones, remember? We don't get to use the black hats' tricks even when it would benefit us. Political Compass: -6.88, -6.41

        by bmcphail on Sat Jan 04, 2014 at 07:18:31 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  The rich need help,too. (3+ / 0-)
    Thanks to subsidies for crops like corn, barley and sorghum, the billionaires -- who have a combined net worth of $316 billion, according to the Forbes data provided in the report -- are able to get taxpayer money for their farming businesses. Among them is Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft, whose Kona Residence Trust received $14,429 in barley subsidies between 1995 and 2002, according to the report.
    link

    Ceiling Cat rules....srsly.

    by side pocket on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 02:36:19 PM PST

  •  Issue cuts across parties, depends upon who (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    VClib

    politician has for voters and campaign contributors.

    Phase out farm subsidies over 5 years and encourage private sector insurance to replace it without Federal subsidies or backing.

    The most important way to protect the environment is not to have more than one child.

    by nextstep on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 02:40:36 PM PST

    •  That doesn't sound very progressive to me (5+ / 0-)
      Phase out farm subsidies over 5 years and encourage private sector insurance to replace it without Federal subsidies or backing.
      But it's a great idea if you want to put the final nail in the coffin of family farms.

      P.S. I am not a crackpot.

      by BoiseBlue on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 02:49:52 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Subsidizing businesses is a progressive value? (0+ / 0-)

        Really?  I can see that as a value of crony capitalism.  

        Government subsidies are only progressive in highly unusual instances, such as green energy.

        The most important way to protect the environment is not to have more than one child.

        by nextstep on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 04:07:44 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I'll point you again to my comment upthread (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          greenbell, Pi Li, Meteor Blades

          There is still a fuckton of dairy sourced from family farms, including nearly every slab of cheese on a fast food burger, grocery store brands, even that fake shit that corporations like Kraft make.

          A LOT of that comes from family farms, not to mention the fuckton of products that most people don't realize are dairy products.

          Forcing those factory farms to purchase private insurance instead of having a federally subsidized insurance sounds like a progressive idea to you?

          I can't overstate how much I detest these conversations with people who have no clue what the agriculture industry really is.

          Do you really want to punish Simplot (the behemoth that it is, responsible for McD's fries) at the expense of the thousands of dairies and farms in Idaho that are still family owned? And you think that is progressive?

          Spite, nose, face.

          P.S. I am not a crackpot.

          by BoiseBlue on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 04:24:10 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Were do you get subsidizing businesses as being (0+ / 0-)

            progressive?  

            On the issue of subsidizing dairy, many health professionals say the US consumes far too much dairy at the expense of health (obesity, cardio vascular diseases, diabetics, etc.).  In addition, dairy is a large factor in climate change from the very high volume of methane that is produced.  There is no special factor regarding dairy that warrants it being subsidized that I can see.  The only reason it is subsidized is power politics, not public policy or economics.

            In any event, without taxpayer subsidies people will continue to eat various dairy products in high volume.

            Dairy farmers would not be forced to buy private insurance, but subsidized insurance would not be available.

            Most every other business in the country does just fine with private business insurance.

            The most important way to protect the environment is not to have more than one child.

            by nextstep on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 04:51:57 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Crop insurance provides stability (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              ladybug53

              Since you are hung up on climate change you might try a few years on a working farm and you'll experience every aspect of climate change from drought to flood to early frosts and late wet springs and hail and wind.  

              An entire region can be devastated by drought or floods.  It is useful not to have boom and bust cycles like we saw in the '80s.  

              Subsidies are an economic tool.  It's too bad government wasn't more creative in saving our manufacturing industries.  At least farming produces products in the United States, provides exports, improves balance of trade, etc.  

              You aren't ever going to have a Food Stamp Bill.  You have a Farm Bill and if you pass it people may get food stamps and you might reelect Tim Walz in MN-01 and Senator Franken or a new Democrat to the Senate in Iowa.

              Or you can defeat the Farm Bill out of spite and lose all that blue territory in the top center of your map to Republicans.  Heck, you might even turn me into a Republican.

              •  According to one of the links in my diary (0+ / 0-)

                crop insurance cost taxpayers more than the disaster aid programs it was meant to replace.

                A close look at the data over the past 40 years shows that nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that since Congress expanded the crop insurance program in 2000, crop insurance programs have been more costly than the disaster programs they were designed to replace. In fact, when spending is adjusted for inflation, it turns out that crop insurance has cost as much as all disaster spending since 1975. What’s more, nearly one-half of all disaster spending occurred after crop insurance subsidies were greatly increased.
                It is true that crop insurance provides stability in the face of uncertainty. However, it is fair to question if the stability is worth the cost, and if there are not other, more cost-effective ways to provide that stability.

                "In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.” -Confucius

                by pierre9045 on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 06:46:29 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Depends on where you sit (0+ / 0-)

                  My family has farmed since the 1850's and crop insurance makes it possible for my 92 year old mother to easily cash rent the farm and receive a reliable, dependable income to supplement her Social Security.  My father actually sold private crop insurance so I'm not opposed to that or to reforms that make sense.

                  But there is a lot of mindless trashing of farmers and farm programs on this site from people who haven't ever farmed.  

                  Farmers aren't your enemy and you can't win elections just relying on poor urban voters on the coasts.

                  I'm a liberal and I can't think of a safety net program I don't support, but government isn't in business ONLY to serve the poor.  The agricultural economy held up very well during the Great Recession in the Midwest and that didn't hurt Democrats in 2008 or 2012.  

                  But farmers remember Jimmy Carter for exacerbating the farm depression in the '80s and with the price of corn falling and land values probably ready for a decline don't think Democrats can't lose the Senate if they screw up the farm economy or are perceived to have done so.  

            •  You don't know what you're talking about (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              pierre9045, ladybug53, Meteor Blades

              Dairy farms don't cause as much destruction as meat farms. Dairy farms provide cheese and milk to people without slaughtering animals. Only in cases where there is desperation does a dairy farm sell their cattle to a company who intends to slaughter them

              And where do YOU get the idea that forcing family-owned companies to purchase private insurance rather than government backed loans is a progressive idea?

              P.S. I am not a crackpot.

              by BoiseBlue on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 05:32:46 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

        •  Loosely speaking, government subsidies, (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          bmcphail

          in general, is a Progressive idea.

          Whether or not those subsidies are going to individuals, private businesses, or nonprofits, the idea is that the government is promoting something that serves to benefit the public as a whole.

          From there, we can debate which subsidies better serve this goal, for example, tax cuts for low-income earners or tax cuts for the wealthy, or farm subsidies or food stamps.

          "In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.” -Confucius

          by pierre9045 on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 06:54:08 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  It's a systems issue (0+ / 0-)

          We are the principled ones, remember? We don't get to use the black hats' tricks even when it would benefit us. Political Compass: -6.88, -6.41

          by bmcphail on Sat Jan 04, 2014 at 07:21:35 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Gettinwelfare is ok if you're already evil & rich (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sweeper

    nosotros no somos estúpidos

    by a2nite on Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 03:19:44 PM PST

  •  Democratic U.S. and state senators (0+ / 0-)

    and representatives vote against sugar subsidy reform every time.

    Nearly the entire Florida delegation — from Rubio, a potential 2016 GOP presidential candidate, to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee — voted to keep sugar protections in place.
    Al Franken and Bill Nelson blocked reform.

    From the Washington Post, 12/7/2013, bi-partisan support for sugar subsidies.

    The real question is how do we get Washington Democrats to stop being corrupt.

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