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A cornucopia for rich farmers

Farm subsidies will cost each US household about $320, the price to please agribusiness.

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What can $100 million buy you in Congress? If you're agribusiness, such money spent this past year on lobbying and campaign donations will harvest billions in farm subsidies and keep you in clover for another five years.

Congress plans to renew the US agriculture law this week with no apologies for that fact that most of the subsidies will go to the wealthiest 10 percent of recipients and that a majority of this largess will enrich commercial farmers with an average income of $200,000.

And the ultimate cost to each US household for this congressional cornucopia? About $320 a year in taxes and higher food prices – beyond the already inflated prices at supermarkets. Oh, and then there's the likely retaliation by other countries against such trade-distorting farm subsidies and the expected loss in further opening global trade.

All this for a "temporary" law born during the Dust Bowl of the Depression to help only the poorest family farmers. If anything, regular renewal of the federal government's largest corporate-welfare scheme has only squeezed out family farms by favoring big commercial ones, which carry the most clout on Capitol Hill.

What makes this payoff to corporate farmers so indigestible this time around is that it comes when food producers are making record profits from high global prices and subsidies for grain- and sugar-based ethanol. Since the last renewal of the farm law in 2002, farmer income and crop prices have more than doubled.

But despite such stubborn facts, this is an election year, and money still talks to lawmakers in search of campaign cash for reelection.


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