What Do Health Care Reform and the Farm Bill Have in Common?

I saw this fascinating graphic yesterday about the impact of farm subsidies on our eating habits:

 

 

It's an interesting graphic for so many reasons, not least of which is active government sponsorship of foods that aren't so good for us. But this is a political blog so my main reason for posting it was that it helped me put the health care debate in perspective. We've heard so much talk about how complicated health care is; how Congress should have moved incrementally, passing small bits at a time; how we can't afford subsidies for poor people to gain insurance. But you know what else is complex, expansive and costly but still manages to get reauthorized every five years or so? The farm bill.

The 2008 farm bill cost tax payers $288 billion. Large chunks of that money goes to a small group of people, who arguably don't need it. According to the Wall Street Journal in 2008, "Today, farmers make up less than 1% of the U.S. population, and agriculture production is dominated by large, industrial farms that have annual sales of $1 million or more. In 2006, average farm household income was $77,654, or about 17% more than average U.S. household income, according to the Department of Agriculture. Average farm household income is expected to be about $90,000 this year. Current law allows subsidies to farmers with annual adjusted gross income of as much as $2.5 million." It also evidently prioritizes foods which don't promote health eating. (Mrs. Obama is not gonna like that...) And it aggravates U.S. trading partners no end. In short, it costs a lot, gives money to some folks who don't need it and helps clog our arteries and annoy our friends. Yet Congress manages to get it done.

Health care reform by comparison will likely be deficit neutral (possibly even reducing the deficit), helps poor people, and makes us healthier. Admittedly, the farm bill also does some really worthwhile things, like expanding food stamp programs, helping provide fresh fruit and veggies to school kids and investing in renewable resources. I don't think the farm bill in inherently evil. But I do think the comparison is worth making.

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