It’s widely accepted that George W. Bush was a big-spending president. He was a social conservative, but not a fiscal one. To his credit, however, even Bush recognized how wasteful and unfair farm subsidies are, and he vetoed the last major farm bill in 2008.
That bill “would needlessly expand the size and scope of government,” he said in his veto message. Unfortunately, Congress overrode Bush’s veto and the 2008 farm bill became law at an estimated taxpayer cost of $640 billion over 10 years.
Congress is moving ahead on another farm bill this year, with the Senate recently passing its version and the House to take up a bill shortly. The Senate-passed bill would spend $955 billion over 10 years—49 percent more than the 2008 bill that was too expensive even for Bush.
Four-fifths of the spending in this year’s farm bill is for food stamps, yet 18 Republican senators still voted for it. Perhaps those members hadn’t noticed that the cost of food stamps has quadrupled over the last decade. Perhaps they hadn’t noticed that federal government debt has doubled since 2008. To members who see themselves as fiscal conservatives, it should be obvious that a less expensive bill this time around is appropriate, rather than one that is far more expensive.
The farm bill to be considered by the House would spend $940 billion over 10 years, and thus is almost as irresponsible as the Senate version. Despite what farm bill supporters are saying, this year’s bill represents a huge spending increase, not a cut.
In his 2008 veto message, Bush noted that the farm bill “continues subsidies for the wealthy,” and he pointed to the high and rising incomes enjoyed by farmers. Farmers are doing even better today, with their incomes soaring over the last five years.
Today’s Republicans often admit that federal spending got out of control under President Bush. But now John Boehner is saying that he will support the new House farm bill that spends 47 percent more than the one Bush vetoed.