Over on Swampland, Joe Klein takes justified digs at Obama and Clinton for their support of the $300-billion farm bill, which both Bush and McCain have opposed. There’s a whole litany of reasons why the farm bill is a failure, as detailed in last fall’s excellent cover story in TIME–it fuels obesity, degrades the environment, promotes megafarms (the top 10% of subsidized farmers absorb three-quarters of the bill’s subsidies) and the depopulation of rural America. Most obviously, the farm bill is an easy whipping boy for those concerned with federal pork, and with negotiators doling out baksheesh like a $126-million tax break for racehorse owners (a nod to Sen. McConnell’s home state), that’s not surprising.
More importantly, however, the bill stands as a timepiece that marks how badly skewed U.S. policy remains against the rest of the developing world. If there ever was a moment to revise our nation’s morally defunct food policies, with hunger riots sweeping countries from Cameroon to Haiti, now would’ve been that time. But this year, Congress again begged off reforming the farmer subsidies that, if removed–to take just one example–could, according to one study, boost the income of an average West African cotton farmer’s income by as much as 6%.
What’s more, in supporting the current farm bill, Congress has voted emphatically to continue depriving the hungry of billions in food assistance. As we wrote this February, for decades rather than allowing the purchase of local food aid abroad, successive U.S. farm bills have endorsed a policy that requires the overwhelming majority of food aid to be purchased from American producers before being packaged and shipped–laboriously and slowly–overseas. The policy is disastrous: especially with rising fuel costs, the cost of overhead now absorbs some 65 cents of every dollar we spend on such so-called food aid. (A report by the OECD found that this policy–while beneficial to U.S. producers–wastes about $750 million a year.) Like farm subsidies for millionaires, the policy would be almost comically wasteful if it didn’t say so much about our politics, and if the stakes for millions of people abroad weren’t so high.