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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Why indefensible farm bill was backed by party leaders and K Street -- By Timothy P. Carney, The Washington Examiner


A trillion-dollar, pork-filled farm bill stuffed with corporate welfare passed the House last week and cleared the Senate on Tuesday -- thanks in part to a little-noticed maneuver by the bipartisan leadership in both chambers.

Liberals, conservatives, libertarians and conservationists all opposed the farm bill on many policy grounds:

The bill perpetuates the federal sugar program. Arguably Washington's least defensible corporate welfare boondoggle, the sugar program keeps out foreign sugar, hiking prices for consumers, killing jobs for candy makers and enriching a few politically connected sugar producers.

The farm bill replaces a flawed program of direct payments to farmers with a potentially more wasteful program of subsidized crop insurance, which takes money from taxpayers and gives it to banks and farming businesses.

Lawmakers also stripped out of the final farm bill a provision that would have required congressmen to disclose the farm subsidies they receive from taxpayers.

Liberals, meanwhile, hated the bill's cuts to food stamps.

The list of problems goes on, explaining opposition from the Environmental Working Group, the National Taxpayers Union, Heritage Action and experts from the liberal Center for American Progress.

The bill had its supporters, of course: the agribusiness lobby, the farm-finance lobby, the White House and the Congressional leadership of both parties. This union of K Street and party leaders hasn’t been sufficient in recent years to overcome conservative and liberal intransigence on a handful of issues. How did the establishment win this time?

The key may have been a little-known law called “Payment in Lieu of Taxes.”

The federal government owns about 30 percent of all U.S. territory, including a majority of land in Nevada, Utah, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska. States and counties don’t collect property taxes from this land, and so the federal government offsets some of this loss with federal funds known as “Payments in Lieu of Taxes,” or PILT. (Some states and municipalities accept payments in lieu of taxes on property owned by colleges and universities, museums, hospitals and the like.)

Renewing PILT funding is normally automatic: Even fiscal conservatives don’t object to federal spending if it’s the federal government compensating local government for the impact of Washington’s massive footprint.

Last year, the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill reauthorized PILT funding. 
That Interior bill was folded into the omnibus spending bill that came to the House and Senate floor in January. Members learned shortly before the bill came up for a vote that PILT was stripped out.

Western Republicans objected to the move. Conservative Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador, in explaining his vote against the omnibus bill, cited the removal of PILT funding. Labrador, according to a spokesman, “was disappointed PILT was not included in the omnibus.”

Instead, PILT funding was stuck in the farm bill. This helped swing Labrador from a "no" vote on the farm bill last year to a "yes" vote this year. PILT money “was one of the reasons he decided to vote for the farm bill,” Labrador’s spokesman told me.

http://washingtonexaminer.com/why-indefensible-farm-bill-was-backed-by-party-leaders-and-k-street/article/2543443 Other Republicans, including Rep. Mark Meadows (whose North Carolina district consists mostly of national forests, a Cherokee reservation, and the Great Smoky Mountain National Park) supported the farm bill because it had PILT funding in it.

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