I grew up on my family’s small cattle ranch in Yell County. Some of my earliest memories are kicking bales of hay out of my dad’s truck when I wasn’t much bigger than those bales. And I still work our farm when I’m home in Dardanelle.
Like so many other Arkansans, farming for us isn’t a job; it’s a way of life. I took the lessons learned on our farm into the Army and now to Congress.
That’s why I was disappointed with the Farm Bill considered by the House recently, which was a bad deal for Arkansas farmers and taxpayers. It had a staggering $940 billion cost, an incredible 56 percent increase-$335 billion-from the 2008 Farm Bill, at a time when we’re $17 trillion in debt. Yet Arkansas farmers would’ve received less than 1 percent of the money from its farm programs, and over 75 percent of Arkansas farmers were expected to receive nothing from these programs.
In truth, the Farm Bill should be called the Food Stamp Bill. Many Arkansans may not realize that nearly 80 percent of spending in the Farm Bill goes toward nutrition programs-primarily food stamps.
While food stamps can provide needed temporary aid for struggling Arkansans, the program is riddled with fraud and abuse. Food-stamp usage under President Barack Obama has resulted in long-term dependency for too many people as Americans struggle to find jobs with decent wages. Today, almost 1 in 7 Americans use food stamps, and 50 percent of recipients have used them for more than five years.
While some say the bill would’ve cut food-stamp costs by $20 billion, that’s typical Washington smoke and-mirror budgeting, measuring only against an artificial baseline. In fact, food-stamp spending would’ve grown from $378 billion to $670 billion. This isn’t surprising, though, since President Obama encourages and rewards states for adding people to food-stamp rolls. The Mexican government is even paid to advertise American food stamps.
Although the bill contained some minor reforms, they didn’t go nearly far enough, nor did they address the basic problem: President Obama’s failed economic policies. Meanwhile, we shouldn’t continue to tie out-of control food-stamp spending to farm programs designed to benefit Arkansas farmers.
The bill’s emphasis on food stamps made the needs of Arkansas farmers an afterthought. Based on historical estimates, Arkansas farmers expected to receive about 0.5 percent of the bill’s whopping $940 billion price tag. Worse still, those same estimates indicated that our farmers would’ve received 50 percent less than the last Farm Bill.
Our farmers weren’t just getting a bad deal; they were getting a worse deal than they once had.
Even those Arkansans who benefit from farm programs wouldn’t have fared well. These smaller operations comprise 70 percent of Arkansas farms, yet they would’ve received only one-sixth of the payments made to Arkansas farmers.
And that’s just the farmers who receive benefits. More than 75 percent of Arkansas farmers-mostly cattle, hog and poultry farmers-don’t receive any payments from thefarm programs.
The bill also exposed Arkansas taxpayers to huge financial risks.
Food-stamp spending is an “entitlement,” so the Obama administration can continue to expand it without congressional approval. While the bill would’ve rightly replaced the outdated direct-payment program, it did so in a fiscally risky way. Commodity payments would’ve been based on today’s high market prices. As a result, even a small dip in crop prices would’ve left taxpayers on the hook for tens of billions of dollars-more than was paid in direct payments last year.
Finally, the bill was loaded with policies unrelated to farming, which all come at a cost to Arkansans.
For instance, the bill spent $375 million to teach kids that candy and sodas aren’t part of a well-rounded diet. It also authorized new taxes on Christmas trees. And it restricted imports of all kinds of fruits and vegetables, driving up grocery costs for Arkansas families.
I had hoped to support a good Farm Bill. I still do. A better bill would separate food stamps from farm programs, provide a true safety net for difficult farming years, and protect taxpayers from massive cost overruns.
This bill cost too much for Arkansas taxpayers and provided too little for Arkansas farmers. That’s why I couldn’t support it.
U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton represents Arkansas’ 4th District.
Editorial, Pages 17 on 06/26/2013