IT'S A GREAT TIME to be a Midwestern farmer, what with rising demand for ethanol causing prices for corn and other key crops to soar. But if you think that has decreased farmers' appetite for the billions of dollars in taxpayer handouts they get every year through the farm bill -- this country's most egregious corporate welfare act -- think again.
The 2002 farm bill expires in September, and it's up to the House Agriculture Committee to write its replacement. Last week, to the surprise of no one, the 18 members of a subcommittee working on a draft bill voted unanimously to reject all reform efforts, including a modest fix from the Bush administration aimed at making the bill compliant with international trade rules and cutting off government payments to farmers who make more than $200,000 a year. The Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based research and advocacy organization, points out that those 18 subcommittee members come from districts that hoovered up a quarter of the $34.8 billion in crop subsidies parceled out from 2003 to 2005.
The committee may be hoping for another five-year pork package, but that could be tougher this time around. An unusual coalition from across the political spectrum has arisen to fight farm subsidies.