Catfish oversight, weather radios and a Christmas tree tax: Meet the pork-filled $956 BILLION Farm Bill
The massive five-years agriculture spending plan, signed Friday by President Obama, includes a $3 million plan for Christmas tree taxes Most of the bill covers food stamps, with the number of benefit recipients doubling since Obama took office
The U.S. will spend $1 billion per year loaning money to sugar barons so they can keep prices stable and avoid overseas competition Another $100 million will go to study how to get Americans to buy more maple syrup $1 million will buy weather radios for rural Americans, despite plunging hundreds of weather apps for smartphones and plunging access rates
The federal government pays for a $15 million 'wool trust fund,' runs a $170 million program to protect catfish growers from overseas competition, sets aside $3 million to promote Christmas trees, funds another $2 million to help farmers sell more sheep, and plunks down $100 million researching how to get Americans to buy more maple syrup.
And that spending is just three one-hundredths of one per cent of the Farm Bill that President Barack Obama signed Friday in Michigan.
Liberal and conservative watchdogs alike are hopping mad at what they say are pork-barrel projects included in the five-year agriculture spending law as home-state perks to lawmakers that are unneeded or redundant.
There's a new 15-cent levy on every live-cut Christmas tree, a proposal that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack had blocked but will now be beyond his control. Tree growers will put the money into a fund for 'industry-funded promotion, research, and information program[s],' but the cost will inevitably be passed on to consumers.
The Farm Bill also includes $1 million in grant money to buy weather radios, despite the ubiquity of weather.com and the plummeting costs of both Internet service and smartphones.
And it continues a $200 million 'market access' program that has paid companies like Fruit of the Loom and McDonalds to run commercials.
One grant from that fund even funded a reality TV show in India aimed at promoting cotton. Another paid Welch's $844,000 to hawk grape juice outside the U.S.
The conservative Club For Growth called the legislation, which took members of Congress three years to write, 'a "Christmas Tree" bill where there’s a gift for practically every special interest group out there with a well-connected lobbyist.'
It's $956 billion of spending overall in a ten-year period, sketched out in legislation 959 pages long – nearly $1 billion per page.
But most of that money goes to food-stamp and nutrition programs, which are administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The 10-year spending total for those entitlements will hit $756 billion under the new law.
That amount is $8.7 billion less than the previous Farm Bill included, but trends suggest it may have to be revised. Since President Obama took office, the number of Americans receiving those benefits has nearly doubled.
One in five American households receive food stamps today. More than 1 million people were added to the rolls in 2013, including residents who live in the country illegally.
In the year 2000 the entire food stamp program cost $17 billion. Last year that figure was $78 billion.
The rest of the Farm Bill, all $200 billion of it, includes some subsidy payments to members of Congress and their families who are engaged in agriculture.
The left-leaning Environmental Working Group reports that in 2013, In 2013, more than $237,000 was paid to federal lawmakers and their spouses. All but two were Republicans.
Still, Democrats scuttled a bipartisan House amendment that would have required public disclosure of such payments. North Carolina Republican Rep Virginia Foxx and Minnesota Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison pushed the transparency tweak unsuccessfully last year.
Also on some watchdogs' lists of Farm Bill waste is an estimated $1 billion per year taxpayers lend out to protect the sugar industry against price fluctuations, shielding it – mostly in the form of just three companies – from being undercut by cheaper imported sugar.
The result also raises sugar prices nationwide.
'By keeping an unnecessary catfish inspection program and refusing to reform crop insurance or eliminate the unnecessary sugar program, members of both parties and both chambers missed a golden opportunity to fundamentally shift agriculture policy from government-centric to one that embraces the free market and common sense,' said David Williams, president of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.'
And the left-leaning Citizens Against Government Waste is no more enamored with the final law.
'The bill is a disaster for taxpayers and has the potential to be even more expensive and wasteful than the abysmal 2008 Farm Bill that it is replacing,' the group's president, Tom Schatz, complained.
Obama signed it into law at Michigan State University alongside Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow.
He called it a 'Swiss Army knife,' with something for everyone, including the catfish lobby.
Taxpayer lobby groups failed to cut that industry's hand-out from the Farm Bill, despite pointing out that there's already a similar program funded by the Food and Drug Administration.