Two Cheers for Voting Down the Farm Bill

by Burt on June 24, 2013

Yes, Washington, D. C. exports a lot of gloom and doom, but one bright spot in the news last week was the surprise defeat of the very expensive Farm Bill by a 234-195 vote in the House. Kudos to those courageous House members, who saw the foolishness in spending money we don’t have on groups already financially prosperous.

When we study history, we should be startled by how farm subsidies ever came into being. President Coolidge twice vetoed an expensive farm bill in the late 1920s, but President Hoover passed a small subsidy in 1929–to wheat and cotton farmers only. Even Hoover admitted two years later that the program failed, but when FDR became president in 1933, he quickly moved to pass another farm bill, the AAA, which gave farmers cash for not growing crops on part of their land. And this during a time when many Americans were starving.

Sure enough, within three years, Americans were actually importing the very crops we were paying farmers not to produce. According to Frank Kent of the Baltimore Sun newspaper, in 1936 the U.S. was importing 36,353,324 bushels of cotton and 34,809,120 bushels of corn to replace the corn and cotton not grown by U.S. farmers, who were continuing to be paid not to produce.

Why would President Roosevelt, unlike Hoover before him, continue a failed farm program? Because even though the farm program was bad for the nation as a whole, it was good politics for FDR. He won the farm vote in 1936, and that did much to entrench FDR’s ideas for decades thereafter.

Even politicians at the time could see what FDR was doing. Senator Hiram Johnson of California voted for FDR in 1936, but he stated the problem clearly when, right before the 1936 election, he predicted Roosevelt would win in a landslide. “Any man who could not be elected who goes on a train through the Middle West, takes out his checkbook, and says, ‘I will allot a few million dollars to this particular place, and a few million dollars to some other'; and who carries with him the Agricultural Department, with checks for the farmers in untold amounts, and Mr. [Harry] Hopkins, who doles out relief in unstinted quantities, should retire from politics. He starts with probably 8 million votes bought.”

That was exactly FDR’s point. Farm subsidies may be bad for the nation, but they won votes in farm states and Roosevelt wanted those votes to win the election. FDR established that voting to grow government was a winner at the ballot box.

That’s why we should commend the House of Representatives. They get two cheers. They could have passed the bill and taken credit with many farmers and with those on food stamps, who benefitted from the proposed 2013 farm bill. But the House didn’t do that. They did the courageous thing, and they did the right thing. They voted the Farm Bill down because it was bad for the nation, even though it might have won them votes back home.

Now if the House passes a balanced budget, we will give them three cheers!

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