McCain's Shaky Farm Bill Facts

Washington Matters

McCain's Shaky Farm Bill Facts

John McCain's outrage over Congress's flagrant indulgence in subsidies in the recently passed farm bill may reflect a valid sentiment, but his arguments show a lack of knowledge -- or a disregard of the facts -- on subsidies.


McCain has a legitimate complaint, for example, about corn. In the

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But McCain was dead wrong in complaining, as he did yesterday, that Congress is giving billions of dollars in subsidies to "some of the biggest and richest agribusiness corporations in America." Some big corporations will get millions from the farm bill for the research and development of biofuels and other alternative energy, but they're not the primary recipients of crop subsidies. In fact, only 2% of farm owners and operators have an annual adjusted gross income over $200,000, according to a government study.  And just a handful of farms that receive such subsidies make over $2.5 million. That's millions, not billions.


So, McCain is mistaken when he says, "Most of the subsidies are going to large commercial farms with an average income of $200,000." In general, large corporations tend not to own farm land and operate farms because long term profits are modest and much better in other sectors.


Once you get past the unjustified subsidies on highly profitable crops, such as corn, soybeans and wheat, Congress dealt with agriculture in a fashion many would approve if they had all the facts. Grants and incentive payments to protect land and wildlife and improve water quality, for example will jump to 9% of total farm bill spending . . . food aid programs will climb past 70% in the next few years.


And it's worth noting that most crops -- half of them by value in an average year -- aren't eligible for any direct subsidies.