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More than Obamacare to Worry About - Farm Bill Could Make Unsavory Subsidies Permanent

Conservatives need to stay focused on defunding Obamacare, but they cannot ignore other upcoming legislation on the farm bill that could make a sugar subsidy program permanent.

Autumns finest after a late start, the British apple Season in full swing at the Sainsbury's National Apple Day Event at Gore Farm on October 19, 2013 in Sittingbourne, Kent, England. Photo Credit: Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images

As the legislative cycle turns to other issues and more contrived Washingtonian deadlines, conservatives must continue to focus on Obamacare. This week, they will have an opportunity to hold hearings and grill Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Obamacare. They need to show how the problems run much deeper than the website.

Later this week, the focus will shift to bicameral conference committees on the Fiscal Year 2014 budget and a five-year Farm/Food Stamps Bill. Conservatives must be prepared to oppose almost any deal that emerges from the conferences, given the players involved in crafting the deals.

BUDGET CONFERENCE

As part of the terms of surrender over the government shutdown, Congress passed a continuing resolution funding government at current levels until Jan. 15, 2014. The two parties agreed to form a bicameral conference committee to hash out a long-term funding bill for Fiscal Year 2014 by mid-December. The first meeting of the committee will take place on Wednesday.

Speaker of the House John Boehner. Photo Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images

The major point of contention will revolve around the sequester. The total sum of discretionary budget authority for Fiscal Year 2014 starts out at $988 billion extrapolated over 12 months. But this level will automatically be cut back to $967 billion on January 15, the same day the Continuing Resolution expires.

Democrats are hoping enough Republicans will be scared of the sequester and acquiesce to some sort of grand tax and budget deal to replace it. Many Republicans have already signaled their desire to forge such a deal. Conservatives must simply keep the sequester and deny Democrats any leverage to negotiate.

Furthermore, after taking sequester off the table, Republicans should continue fighting Obamacare in the budget.  They should demand that all 12 appropriations bills be passed in regular order, allowing us to isolate those components of the budget that fund Health and Human Services and the IRS - the two entities overseeing the healthcare roll out.

As Obamacare permanently changes the relationship of the citizen with the federal government, destroys our economy, and makes insurance unaffordable for those who choose freedom from dependency, Republicans must realize that it’s silly to focus on “fixing” $20 billion in discretionary spending cuts.

FARM/FOOD STAMP BILL

On Wednesday, the House and Senate conference committee will meet for the first time to iron out an agreement on a five-year Farm Bill, of which 80 percent of the spending is allocated for food stamps. Here is a list of the conferees.

[sharequote align="center"]Conservatives cannot support any report that fails to sever ties between food stamps and agriculture[/sharequote]

Background:

On January 1, as part of the “Fiscal Cliff” deal, Congress passed another short-term extension of the Farm Bill until October. Meanwhile, the House and Senate have worked this year to craft competing five-year bills.

Autumns finest after a late start, the British apple Season in full swing at the Sainsbury's National Apple Day Event at Gore Farm on October 19, 2013 in Sittingbourne, Kent, England. Photo Credit: Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images

On June 10, the Senate passed a massive big government bill with bipartisan support (S.954). The 1,150-page Senate bill costs $955 billion over 10 years and creates a new shallow loss program covering up to 90 percent of a farmer’s income – on the taxpayer dime. Roughly 80 percent of the cost is related to food stamps. For good measure, this bill contains sugar subsidies, biofuels subsidies, and conservation programs.

On June 20, the House attempted to pass a full five-year farm bill that cut an extra $36 billion from food stamps, but actually spent more money on farm subsidies (total cost was about $940 billion). Both versions eliminated direct payments, but introduced several new price target and crop insurance programs, which can be more costly.  Conservatives rebelled against leadership and defeated the bill.

Later in July, the House split the bill into two parts and passed an agriculture-only bill, which essentially reflected the same priorities of the original House bill. However, that bill made all of the new farm subsidy programs and the old sugar subsidy program permanent law, not subject to change when the other components of the bill expire in five years. This is very concerning to conservatives.

Where things stand:

Now that the House and Senate are headed to conference, food stamps will be added back into the bill, thereby obviating the entire benefit of the original House approach. Most of the debate during conference will revolve around the levels of food stamp spending – whether to spend roughly $765 billion or $730 billion extrapolated over 10 years. Either way, this is a big increase from the last Farm Bill.

Here are some other things conservatives should watch for in the coming weeks:

The Milk Cliff: Pursuant to a draconian 1949 law, every time we fail to renew expiring farm programs, the government must begin imposing Soviet-style price controls on milk by decreasing supplies through massive purchases of milk, butter, cheese, and other dairy products. In this case, the quotas will take effect on January 1. There is simply no justification for this antiquated law, and it is only used as a Washington-style crisis threat in order to leverage more spending.

Republicans must demand  permanent repeal of this law.

Severing Food Stamps from farm programs: When the House adopted the resolution to go to conference on September 28, they employed a useful tactic to ensure that food stamps and farm programs are permanently severed. The duration of the farm programs (H.R. 2642) was set for five years, while the food stamp part (H.R. 3102) of the bill is set to expire in just three years.

Conservatives must not support any conference report that fails to sever the ties between food stamps and agriculture.

Permanent law: We will hear a lot of whining about the cuts to food stamps, but the bill also contains a number of new farm subsidy programs.

Conservatives must make sure that none of these new programs are allowed to become permanent law and are subject to re-authorization with the expiration of this bill.

In this May 8, 2012, file photo, Kevin Concannon, U.S. undersecretary of agriculture, chats with vendor Helen Wise at the State Farmers Market in Raleigh, N.C. The House has voted to cut nearly $4 billion a year from food stamps, a 5 percent reduction to the nation's main feeding program used by more than 1 in 7 Americans. Photo Credit: Allen Breed/AP

Food Stamp Reform: The only way to address the skyrocketing cost of food stamps is to structurally reform the program. At present, the federal government creates a perverse dis-incentive for states to wean residents off the program.  t also fails to encourage employment as a means of working towards upward mobility.

Conservatives should not support a deal that does not address the work requirements, eligibility standards, and attempt to shift more responsibility back to the states.

Stay informed every day at www.MadisonProject.com

TheBlaze contributor channel supports an open discourse on a range of views. The opinions expressed in this channel are solely those of each individual author.

 

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