Tuesday, March 4, 2008

(really) green acres is the place to be: farm subsidies for the wealthy

From the editorialists at the WSJ, news that farm subsidies go-- not only to those in downtown New York City and to the dead-- but to the fabulously wealthy as well, including some in Congress...

Here's today's quiz: What do Scottie Pippen, David Letterman and Ted Turner have in common? Answer: None of them are farmers, but all three have received thousands of dollars in federal farm subsidies this decade.

We could add to that list of non-farmer farm-aid recipients David Rockefeller, Leonard Lauder of the cosmetics firm, Edgar Bronfman Sr. of the Seagram fortune, and Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen. Our point is that you don't have to drive a tractor, plant seeds, or even live anywhere near rural America to qualify for Uncle Sam's farm largess. And you sure don't have to be poor....

Washington refers to these people as "absentee farmers." They own the land and collect the subsidy checks, but few do any actual farming. It is true that the farmers who lease the acreage in Illinois, Iowa or Kansas are usually far from rich (though the per capita income of farmers is higher than the median family income). But studies indicate that the subsidies provide little financial benefit to these tenant farmers, who grow and harvest the crops and put food on our table. Most studies agree that the subsidies are capitalized into the price and rental value of the land. So the more generous the farm payments, the higher the rents that the absentee farmers in New Yorkers can charge.

The most recent USDA records, catalogued by the Environmental Working Group indicate that some 260 farm establishments will receive $1 million or more under the farm bill now in the Senate....

Some recipients are even Members of Congress -- including six Senators and a handful of House Members who have received a combined $6 million in subsidies over the past decade. Jon Tester, the newly elected Montana Senator, has received more than $300,000 over the past decade. The family of Iowa Senator Charles Grassley has received more than $200,000.

Colorado Senator Ken Salazar assails President Bush's threatened veto of the farm bill as "immoral." What he doesn't say is that his potato farming brothers, including Congressman John Salazar, received $43,104 in farm subsidies from 2003 to 2005, and they will get more if the bill is passed.

And now for the political and philosophical punchlines:

So what is it about farm bills that turns Republicans into socialists and Democrats into defenders of welfare for the rich?...About 65 cents of every farm payment dollar goes to the wealthiest 10% of farmers. Where is that Democratic devotion to class warfare when we really need it?


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