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A new bait and switch farm bill

Published on May 31, 2013, by

The Senate agriculture committee passed its version of the 2013 farm bill on May 14. Though sold as a deficit-reduction measure that maintains key supports for farmers, the bill’s numbers deserve a closer look as it heads to the Senate floor next week.
The new bill does get one thing right: eliminating the Direct Payments program — a $5 billion annual giveaway to farmers just for being farmers. In the current era of tight budgets, such payouts are neither needed nor possible.

But then come the budget gimmicks. Instead of counting the bill’s savings against the previous farm bill’s budget, Senate Agriculture committee members have included the sequestration spending cuts in their savings estimates. This makes it appear as though the committee’s bill annually saves $600 million more than it actually does.

But more importantly, despite eliminating the Direct Payments waste, the new bill might actually make things worse. Instead of simply eliminating this outdated expense, Senate lawmakers replaced it with a new one that could very likely be more costly: the Shallow Loss Agricultural Risk Coverage program (ARC). As reported in the AEI paper, “Field of Schemes: The Taxpayer and Economic Welfare Costs of Shallow Loss Farming Programs,” authored by Bruce Babcock, Barry Goodwin, and myself, this program essentially guarantees that farmers receive approximately 89% of their expected incomes — a program about which no other business in America could dream. In effect, the program would issue payments to farmers when crop prices (and thus revenues) fall.

Using the assumption that crop prices will remain at or close to recent record highs, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the new program would cost $2.372 billion per year. Combine that with the $5 billion Direct Payments cuts, a few other items, and the sequestration savings, and the bill appears to save $2.4 billion annually overall. But if crop prices move back toward their long-run averages, ARC’s costs would balloon to $7 billion or more annually. Under this scenario, the total cost of the Senate Bill would be more than $3 billion more than the previous farm bill, if sequestration is not counted.

The data demonstrate that the Senate Bill, with its crop insurance and ARC provisions, is essentially a bait and switch proposal. It exposes the taxpayer to substantial risk while, in combination with other federal subsidy programs, virtually guaranteeing that most farmers will always receive at least 89% of their expected farm incomes.

Check out the infographic below for a detailed look at how the Senate Farm Bill actually breaks down (click on the image for a larger version).

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How to get food aid right

Published on May 6, 2013, by

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on CNN Global Public Square. Christopher B. Barrett is a professor at Cornell University and author of an American Enterprise Institute paper on US food assistance programs and the book Food Aid After Fifty Years: Recasting Its Role. The views expressed are his own.

How many of us read a story of disaster striking people half a world away and respond by getting out our checkbooks?  Tens of millions of us in any given year, and Americans are especially generous. Relief agencies received more than $1.2 billion in the wake of the disastrous 2010 earthquake in Haiti and $3.9 billion following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.  But is anyone foolish enough to go to the local grocery store, buy food and ship it to communities devastated by disaster? Of course not. That would cost much more, take too long to reach people in need, risk spoilage in transit, and likely not provide what is most needed.

Yet with only minor oversimplification, this is precisely what our government’s food aid programs have done since 1954. Our main international food aid programs are authorized through the Farm Bill and must purchase food in, and ship it from, the United States. This system was originally designed to dispose of surpluses the government acquired under farm price support programs that ended decades ago.  These antiquated rules continue today thanks to political inertia in Washington.

As a result, only 40 cents of each taxpayer dollar spent on international food aid actually buys the commodities hungry people eat; the rest goes to shipping and administrative costs. And the median time to deliver emergency food aid is nearly five months. We can do better.

Thankfully, the Obama administration’s 2014 budget sensibly proposes that the federal government, for the first time, begin handling most food aid the way all of us manage our charitable contributions: give the money directly to those agencies that help the needy. It would cut red tape and let USAID more flexibly allocate $1.5 billion in scarce resources to do maximum good with minimum waste and quickly, providing food assistance in the forms that make most sense to save the greatest number of lives. Sometimes this will mean buying food close to where the crisis has struck, while other times U.S. farmers and food manufacturers will supply food to be shipped where it is needed most.

The key is the flexibility to move resources quickly and efficiently, saving more lives and giving recipients foods they typically prefer over unfamiliar commodities from a distant continent.  Peer-reviewed research on pilot programs run in 2010-11 conclusively supports these claims.  All the other major food assistance donors in the world – the Australians, Canadians, and Europeans – made these changes years ago and enthusiastically endorse their effectiveness. Virtually all of the major international charities that handle food for disaster assistance support the proposed changes. It would save money, accelerate and maybe even expand delivery of life-saving food assistance, and promote the development of market economies around the world.

Yet a powerful coalition of U.S. agribusinesses, shippers and a few international development organizations want to block this sensible proposal. Why? This “iron triangle” of special interests benefits from the outdated arrangements, at the expense of taxpayers and hungry people around the world. Agribusinesses get a small profit boost, but mainly a reliable government market without having to compete all around the world for this business. But thanks to high food prices in global markets American farms and agribusinesses have enjoyed record profits in recent years and don’t need more handouts.

As for the ocean freight industry, a 2010 peer-reviewed study found that most of the windfall gains from food aid shipments go to foreign shipping lines that operate U.S. flag vessels precisely in order to book these profits. Ostensibly the “cargo preference” provisions restricting food aid shipments to U.S. flag vessels are for national security reasons. But that 2010 study showed that 70 percent of the subsidized vessels are not militarily useful and there has been no military call-up of seamen from food aid vessels since the program began in 1954. Yet food aid restrictions provide ship owners with an annual subsidy equal to $100,000 per merchant mariner. Many militarily useful vessels also get a rather generous double dip: a $2.5 million direct payment per vessel each year under the Maritime Security Program, enacted in 1996.

There really is no good economic or humanitarian reason to oppose the administration’s proposed reforms. The only reasons are political: the willingness of some groups to extort corporate welfare at the expense of disaster-affected hungry people, and the resistance of some in Congress to transfer appropriations authority to a more suitable committee jurisdiction.

It is time for the government to respond to disasters abroad the way you and I do: generously, promptly and efficiently. The time for food aid reform is now.

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More subsidies for prosperous farmers

Published on May 1, 2013, by

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that farm income in 2013 will be more than double what it was in 2009. The nation’s farmers are enjoying the benefits of high crop prices, massive crop insurance subsidies, and technological advances that have made crops more resistant to drought. As a result, farming’s record level of income far surpasses that of comparable non-farm sectors.

Yet much of the debate over new farm legislation seems oblivious to these facts. The latest farm bill would give farmers even greater subsidies. In 2012, the Senate and the House failed to reach a consensus on a farm bill and instead passed a compromise extension of expiring law. The hope was that the agricultural committees would then develop a traditional omnibus farm bill package of legislation. The extension is set to expire on September 30; House and Senate leaders have pledged to complete a bill this year and the House will hold a markup this month.

Today, as has increasingly been the case since the early 1980s, U.S. farmers are protected from significant yield and price losses by a massive and heavily subsidized crop insurance program. The program offers most producers the option to guarantee up to 85 percent of their projected yield or revenue. The most popular form of crop insurance guarantees revenue and promises to replace yield losses at the greater of the expected price at planting time or the actual price at harvest. As crop prices and farm incomes have increased to record levels, so too have the revenues guaranteed to farmers under these insurance contracts and the subsidies paid by taxpayers.

The full text of this article is available on The American’s website.

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It’s time to ask farmers to pay more for crop insurance

Published on April 25, 2013, by

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Roll Call.

When somebody else pays for their drinks, most partygoers find they want and need more than a modest amount to drink because at an open bar, the cost of a drink is the time spent waiting in line for service. At a cash bar, lines are shorter because most people find they just don’t need that much to drink when they have to pay for it.

What holds for drinks also holds for crop insurance. Since 2001, taxpayers have paid more than two-thirds of the tab for farmers’ crop insurance purchases. Almost all of this federal largess goes to producers of corn, soybeans, wheat and cotton, with the largest subsidies filling the pockets of the largest and wealthiest farmers. Advocates for continuing these subsidies claim that the fact that farmers buy large amounts of the most expensive and heavily subsidized crop insurance product is proof of the importance of the program. But using farmers’ current crop insurance decisions to measure how much they value insurance is as valid as measuring the value of drinks by how much alcohol is consumed at an open bar.

Crop insurance subsidies were dramatically increased in 2000. Since then, farmers have increased the amount of insurance they buy and have overwhelmingly chosen to insure their crops with Revenue Protection. This is the champagne of crop insurance products. It protects against revenue shortfalls when crop prices decline and against yield shortfalls when crop prices increase. Revenue Protection can cost up to 80 percent more than regular revenue insurance that only protects against revenue shortfalls. Most of this 80 percent extra cost is paid for by the taxpayer. The record $12.7 billion insurance payout to corn and soybean farmers in 2012 was more than twice what they would have been had subsidies not induced farmers to buy Revenue Protection rather than regular revenue insurance.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., R-Tenn., recently introduced legislation that would sharply reduce the powerful incentive farmers have to increase their consumption of crop insurance. The extent to which farmers’ purchases of insurance would change under the Flake-Duncan proposal is reflected by the $40 billion in tax dollars that the Congressional Budget Office estimates would be saved over 10 years. Tellingly, the bill would not restrict farmer choice over the type of crop insurance they could buy or eliminate subsidies. It would only reduce the taxpayer portion of the tab.

Just as charging for drinks dramatically reduces alcohol consumption, increasing the farmers’ share of the cost of managing their risk would dramatically reduce their use of insurance. This policy change would dramatically lower taxpayer costs while simultaneously improving agricultural efficiency. Rather than taxpayers taking the risk out of crop production, which in fact encourages farmers to adopt more risky business and production strategies, changing the program would allow those farmers who can best manage their production and price risk to reap the highest rewards. Returns would flow more to good farmers rather than just to any farmer who uses taxpayer dollars to buy the most insurance.

Perhaps we are entering an era in which Congress will need to be more accountable for the subsidies it provides to farmers and other industries. If so, then Congress and the administration should seek to spend money on programs only where there is a clear public interest at stake and even then only on programs where that clear public interest is being met in a cost-effective manner. The crop insurance program fails both tests.

In an attempt to rationalize the program’s $9 billion annual average cost, its supporters argue that this is a small price to pay for stability in our food supply. But the idea that the U.S. food supply depends on a taxpayer-provided “safety net” is ludicrous. The United States produces large surpluses of food for the export market, and farming has never been as profitable as it is now. Simply put, the only public interest at stake in the farm subsidy debate is the increase in interest on the national debt.

It may be too much to expect Congress to actually eliminate subsidies to a program that serves no broad public purpose, but perhaps it is not too much to ask for greater cost-effectiveness. A simple first step would be to ask farmers to pay a greater share of the cost of insuring their crops. Just as conversion of open bars to cash bars reduces excessive consumption of alcohol, this step would dramatically reduce farmers’ over-consumption of insurance.

Bruce Babcock is a professor of economics at Iowa State University and a contributor to the American Enterprise Institute’s American Boondoggle Project.

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‘The world’s most outdated law’: Why the next farm bill should be the last

Published on April 25, 2013, by

Editor’s note: “‘The world’s most outdated law’: Why the next farm bill should be the last” by Daniel A. Sumner originally appeared in The Atlantic. Daniel A. Sumner is an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a contributor to AEI’s American Boondoggle project.

When Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan recently referred to the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937 as “the world’s most outdated law” (U.S. Supreme Court, Oral Argument transcript, March 29, 2013), she could just as well have been referring to the whole convoluted array of U.S. farm programs that have their origins shrouded in New Deal history.

The “dairy cliff” over which milk consumers were left dangling on December 31, 2012 was just the latest peril on the absurd farm policy path that farmers, consumers and taxpayers on which have been wandering for decades. Years ago, the rationale for the “wool and mohair subsidy” was to assure we could have wool combat uniforms for Vietnam. Today, we provide crop insurance for export and biofuels crops like corn, soybeans and even cotton–all in the name of food security.

In fact, for generations no one has been able to maintain any plausible economic reason to support prices, subsidize business insurance, or distribute government payments, mainly to farmers of grains, oilseeds and cotton, while perpetuating convoluted regulations for milk marketing and trade barriers to subsidize sugar producers. Rationales that might have sounded credible in 1950 – e.g.: farmers tend to be poor; the free market just doesn’t work – were shown over the decades to be weak rationalizations for transfers to the wealthy. Other stories, such as that farm subsidies aid rural economies, are similarly at odds with basic facts. Farms account for a tiny share of rural employment, and subsidies do not go to poor regions. Where rural poverty is an issue, a direct approach is far better than hoping for a trickle down through farm subsidies.

Despite record high farm profits and prospective profits (well-documented by record high land prices) the talented farm lobby argues that today’s wealthy farmers still need “safety nets” from taxpayers. But as the farm bill delay stretches from 2012 into the middle of 2013, many objective observers are no longer convinced of the need for any of these programs.

The farm bill was among the first instances in the long, discredited tradition of wrapping countless disparate programs into one massive spending bill that no one could read and in which only each narrow interest knows where their special goody is hidden. For example, most of the spending in the farm bill is for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP or food stamps), which itself has become essentially equivalent to a cash transfer, with almost no relation to food and no significant connection to farming or any other feature of the farm bill. But, it has become and effective strategy to package farm subsidies with programs popular with urban members of Congress. At $80 billion per year, SNAP deserves its own legislation.

Farm commodity subsidies, including federal crop insurance, trade barriers, arcane price regulations for milk and other products, and the subsidies for the grains, cotton and oilseed are relics of a distant past. We seem to need no federal subsidy for lettuce, broccoli or alfalfa and those crops have fared at least as well over the years as the favored crops.

What about the rest of the massive farm bill? Rural environmental issues are not unique, so let us debate them in the context of environmental policy more broadly, not as an excuse for another form of farm subsidies.

The government rightly provides R&D support, and the evidence from high rates of return suggests an underinvestment in agricultural research by public sources. But, that evidence indicates that we should use some alternative authorization process, rather than trying to slip a few dollars into the farm bill where the R&D spending competes with dollars used to pay farmers directly. Imagine trying to fund the National Institutes of Health by transferring money from Medicare or Social Security. That is not a fight scientists are likely to win. So free agricultural research from the farm bill. It can stand on its own merits.

My proposal is simple. This next farm bill should be the shortest in history. It should also be the last.

Let’s transfer the few programs that merit government attention to the appropriate legislation and department, and shut down the rest. Take the lead from Justice Kagan and accept that the U.S. farm bill is the world’s most outdated law.

Visitors to Washington should consider an added bonus. The Department of Agriculture Administration Building fills prime real estate right on the Washington Mall next to the Smithsonian. The building itself is a superb piece of period architecture. It would make a fine museum of agriculture. We could even have a special room dedicated to the farm bill as a historical artifact.

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Ignoring trade commitments and trade relations only hurts our credibility

Published on April 17, 2013, by

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in The Hill.

For many years, a persistent theme in House and Senate Agricultural Committee debates over farm policy has been “Give the farm lobbies the subsidy programs they want and the heck with the consequences for U.S. trade relations.”  Nothing reflects that attitude better than the recent history of the cotton subsidy program. Like other developed countries, the United States agreed to end explicit export subsidies for all agricultural commodities by the early 2000’s under the terms of the 1994 Marrakesh Treaty that established the World Trade Organization (WTO).

However, the cotton lobby had sought and obtained the Step 2 program that paid subsidies to domestic mills and exporters that purchased upland cotton. Step 2 clearly included export subsidies that violated U.S. WTO commitments and in 2006 a WTO dispute resolution committee determined that such was indeed the case. So now the U.S. taxpayer is annually contributing $147 million to improve the productivity of the Brazil cotton industry.

You might think that the cotton lobby would have learned its lesson, but no. In 2010, as the current farm bill debate was beginning to have a real life, they dreamed up a new subsidy program called STAX (apparently not to many literary types in cotton policy circles). The cotton guys claimed that because STAX would be an “insurance” program to which farmers would contribute 20 percent of total government payments, it would be a WTO legal policy. The Brazilian government argued that STAX was just another potentially large subsidy that would expand U.S. cotton production and suppress world prices. The Brazilian government was correct, but that did not stop the House Agricultural Committee from including the STAX program in its 2012 Farm Bill proposal.

The U.S. cotton lobby might be a poster-child when it comes to seeking subsidies that are likely to violate US trade agreements, but the disease is endemic in the industry. Last week, even the American Farm Bureau, which has had a long history of advocating for free markets, came out with a new “STAX for all” farm bill proposal. In their current Farm Bill rent seeking activities, peanuts, rice and cotton farmers have sought a new Price Loss Coverage price support program that would likely trigger large subsidies, even though crop prices are at near record levels for many commodities. Corn, soybeans and wheat organizations have been seeking an expanded and potentially very lucrative “shallow loss” program. Both proposals have been included in at least one of the Senate and House agricultural committee farm bills.

Why do these proposals all pose problems for U.S. international trade relations? First, as new subsidy programs, they undercut the credibility of the U.S. as a proponent for free trade in all goods and services. Second, all of the new farm lobby proposals (STAX, shallow loss, higher price supports, and the most widely used and heavily subsidized crop revenue insurance products) increase subsidies when international agricultural commodity prices fall. As a result, they create the potential for new WTO price suppression complaints from dozens of countries on over twenty agricultural commodities, ranging from major commodities such as corn and cotton to smaller acreage commodities such as canola, sunflower, chickpeas and lentils. Third, the subsidies associated with the proposed shallow loss and price support programs are potentially so large that they could cause the US to violate its commitments to limit spending on production distorting farm programs (its “amber box aggregate measures of support).

All this means that other countries are likely to bring more complaints against the U.S. and win the right to impose “countervailing measures”. These could legitimately include new tariffs on any U.S. agricultural exports, manufactured goods, or services. Alternatively, the U.S. can try to buy complainants off with taxpayer dollars to improve wheat production in Canada and Australia, and wine production in France and Austria, as well as cotton production in Brazil. But most seriously, perhaps, as long as congressional agricultural committees persist in ignoring U.S. trade commitments and trade relations, the U.S. government will continue to lack credibility in negotiations that open and expand new markets for all U.S. products and protect U.S. intellectual property from international theft.

Smith is a professor at Montana State University and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute where he directs the American Boondoggle farm policy project.

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Moving towards a more rational farm policy: A real opportunity for bipartisan collaboration

Published on February 25, 2013, by

A remarkable thing has happened on the way to a 2013 Farm Bill. Senator Harry Reid and Senator Debbie Stabenow, chair of the Senate Agricultural Committee, along with other Democrats on the committee, have recently proposed a sequestration related Farm Bill. The Bill would terminate the $5 billion a year Direct Payments program, which has widely and generally accurately been described as a welfare boondoggle for manly very wealthy farmers.

About $1.6 billion of those savings would be needed to fund a substantial increase in enrollment in the Average Crop Revenue (ACRE) program, a shallow loss program established by the provisions of the 2008 Farm Bill under which payments are made when, on a state wide basis, revenues per acre for a crop fall below 90 percent of their recent historical state wide average. Annually, another half a billion dollars would be used to refund four “permanent disaster aid programs for livestock, also established in 2008, for which funding ended in 2011 and about $100 million would be used for organic and specialty (read fruits and vegetables) research. The result would be annual savings of $2.7 billion, ten year savings of $27 billion over ten years, and no monies would be allocated to the new and potentially very expensive farm subsidy programs put forward in the Senate and House Agricultural Committee 2012 proposals for a new farm bill.

The Senate Democrats’ sequester-related farm bill proposal is remarkable because, in many ways, it addresses several legitimate concerns about wasteful farm programs essentially targeted to the wealthiest farmers expressed by many House members, including the House Republican leadership.

The Reid-Stabenow proposal does not include the economically wasteful and inefficient dairy program advocated by Congressman Colin Peterson (D- MINN) that would have introduced supply controls specifically intended to curtail the ability of efficient milk producer to expand their operations. It would end the direct payments “welfare for the rich landowner” program that non one beyond the House and Senate agricultural committees even tries to rationalize as good policy. And it provides $27 billion in savings that could be used as offsets for several defense programs many Republicans and Democrats see as essential for the nation’s security.

Of course, the Reid-Stabenow proposal does not go far enough. It would not touch the ACRE shallow loss program, also a potentially expensive program if crop prices shift back towards their long run historical trend levels. Federal crop insurance, a $9 billion a year boondoggle program that subsidizes about 67% of the total cost of a participating farmer’s crop insurance policy, would be left alone. And inefficient and ineffective conservation policies like the Conservation Stewardship Program would remain. But it is a “game changing” proposal because it establishes two important principles.

The first is that the Direct Payments program is not an entitlement program. The second is that the farm lobby does not have an inalienable right to demand that, if the Direct Payments program is terminated, most of the monies should be reallocated to new, economically wasteful, and potential even more expensive programs like the new price support program (Price Loss Coverage) that was included in the House Agricultural Committee’s June 2012 Farm Bill proposal. That little policy nugget had the potential to cost taxpayers as much as $18 billion a year if corn, wheat, soybean and other major crop prices moved back towards their long run trend levels. Those two principles are modest and sensible, and reflect a reasonable bipartisan common farm policy ground for House and Senate Democrats and Republicans, at least those who do not serve on the Congressional Agricultural Committees.

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Sweets for the sweet? Get your extra costly candies for Valentine’s Day

Published on February 13, 2013, by

Times change and not everything remains the same.

Would that were true about the U.S. sugar program. Valentine’s Day is here again and every lover who buys his or her significant other a box of candy will pay just a little bit more for the privilege because of sugar quotas that generally guarantee sugar cane and beet producers and sugar processors higher returns than they would obtain if they faced genuine competition from the global market.

► Read more: Bitter sweet: How big sugar robs you

The U.S. sugar program raises food prices on supermarket shelves and reduces the ability of U.S. food processors to compete in world markets. The program costs the U.S. economy thousands of manufacturing jobs and, in a world of record prices for other major crops like corn and wheat, is scarcely an essential tool for maintaining a viable U.S. agricultural sector.

As Professor Michael Wohlgenant and I argued last year, it is well past time for the program to be disestablished.

► Read Tim Carney: Sugar industry would wither without big government

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US farm policy: We know where we have been, but do we know where we are going?

Published on January 15, 2013, by

In the United States, the federal government has been involved with, and provided subsidies for, farmers and the agriculture sector since at least 1862, when the Morrell Act established the Land Grant University system to encourage both agricultural research and education. Beginning in 1933, with the Agricultural Adjustment Act, farm policy became increasingly focused on providing direct subsidies for farmers to increase farm household incomes, especially when commodity prices were low. After eight decades of federal support, most farm organizations in the United States have come to view farm subsidies as tax payer funds to which the are entitled and are mortified when policy makers or other commentators suggest. (more…)

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Congress shouldn’t sneak farm bill into fiscal cliff deal

Published on December 10, 2012, by

By Vince Smith and Scott Faber

As Congress and the White House wrestle over how to come up with $4 trillion in spending cuts and tax increases, the last thing they need is a distracting and ill-timed skirmish over whether to throw a $1 trillion farm bill package into the mix. The farm bill food fight must be left for another day.

Some advocates for subsidized agriculture tout the savings proposed in the House and Senate versions of the farm bill as a reason for including it in a deficit reduction package. But the $23 billion in 10-year savings in the Senate bill or the $35 billion in the version passed by the House Agriculture Committee would be a trivial contribution to coping with the pending fiscal cliff. What’s more, they represent a fraction of the savings to be had if Congress got serious about reforming outdated and wasteful farm subsidy programs.

The time could not be better for reform.

Farm income has soared, tripling over the last decade. Even this year, despite a historic drought that withered much of the corn and soybean crops, farm income is projected to stay high, thanks in part to the generously subsidized federal crop insurance program and the corn ethanol mandate.

It makes no sense that federal subsidy dollars go overwhelmingly to the largest, most successful landowners and farm operators — precisely those who need it least. Since 1995, the top 10 percent of farm subsidy recipients have cashed 74 percent of all subsidy checks. In 2011, for instance, 26 individual holders of crop insurance policies collected more than $1 million each in subsidies to help pay their insurance premiums.

Neither the House nor Senate bills would do enough to rein in these lavish handouts. They do take the positive step of ending one type of farm subsidy — the discredited and wasteful direct payment program — but both proposals turn right around and funnel most of the savings into other new or expanded subsidies. In fact, if prices for major crops such as corn, soybeans and wheat drop even modestly from their current record levels, those new House and Senate subsidies would be very costly for taxpayers and do nothing for the budget deficit.

While nearly everything else in the House and Senate bills has been slashed in the name of deficit reduction, large commodity farmers will enjoy higher price guarantees and gold-plated insurance options. So it’s not surprising that some farm and congressional leaders want to sneak a secret farm bill through the lame-duck session. They would rather not have to defend these giveaways in the light of day on the House floor. They would rather tuck them into a larger deficit package that cannot be amended and not look back.

It would be wrong to pull this flagrant bait and switch on the American taxpayer. One trillion dollars in spending merits full and open consideration by Congress. The House should have the chance to debate amendments that would cut subsidies, eliminate target prices and rethink the currently open-ended insurance premium entitlements.

With less than three weeks left on the legislative calendar, the current Congress long ago missed its opportunity to fully debate and pass a new five-year farm bill. Right now it needs to focus on the larger fiscal issues at hand and pick up the farm bill again next year.

Vince Smith is a professor of economics at Montana State University and an American Enterprise Institute visiting scholar. Scott Faber is the vice president of government affairs for Environmental Working Group.