Dick Lugar Haunts the Free Market from the Grave

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012 by and is filed under Blog

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You might have thought that we vanquished Dick Lugar from the levers of power a few weeks ago.  But if nothing is done to stop the impending 5-year Farm Bill, he might harm us with his regressive policies long past his time in Washington.

Last month, the Senate Agriculture Committee passed a 5-year farm bill that continues to serve as one of the most potent anti-free-market vehicles in the statist arsenal.  There is nothing more vital to American consumers than fuel and food, yet the farm bill is loaded up with subsidies for farming, biofuels, and other inefficacious “fuel” sources that distort those markets, engendering regressive price increases on everyone.  While supporters of the bill are touting the $23 billion in cuts to direct subsidies, they also plan to expand the crop insurance program.  In fact, the only thing holding up the bill at this point is a food fight between different special interests battling at the trough over subsidy levels for various types of crops.  The most insidious aspect of the bill is that it serves as a means to entrench dependency in some of our most conservative states.

For all the talk of acerbic partisanship in DC, nothing brings the parties together like a farm bill.  As each member clamors for his/her own special interest handouts, the parties become indistinguishable; taking on a striking semblance of a same-sex marriage.  The best illustration is the $800 million Lugar-Conrad amendment, which would continue to shove ethanol down our throats.  On April 26, Lugar and Conrad submitted an amendment that would authorize mandatory spending for his special interest biofuels industry.  The amendment passed by voice vote, and because it provides mandatory authority, the funding would not be subject to annual appropriations.

Thomas Pyle of US News and World Report has the key details of the amendment:

The Lugar-Conrad amendment includes $193 million for the troubled Biomass Crop Assistance Program. With the program, the taxpayer provides up to 50 percent of a farmer’s costs to plant and use biomass crops. This program was cited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of the Inspector General in 2010 for having wide ranging problems with unequal or improper payments to participants, as well as issues with the inconsistent administration of program’s provisions.

The Lugar-Conrad amendment also extends $241 million in taxpayer dollars for the Rural Energy for America Program. This program provides grants and loans for farms to install renewable and energy efficient equipment at their operations. This subsidy is akin to the Obama stimulus bill’s section 1603 program, which provided the same type of financing to Solyndra prior to its bankruptcy filing.

There’s an uncomfortable question that we must deal with: how can we ever restore the free market when we have Republicans from conservative states promoting statist legislation in some of our most critical markets?  How will we ever wean dependency in this nation, if it is entrenched in our red states?

Luckily, Dick Lugar will be spending more time with his family soon, but there are many more troublemakers on that committee.  We need members who will stand with consumers on some of the most vital issues, not with the special interests.  The battle lines are drawn on the Farm Bill.  We must be ready to fight in the ensuing months.

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