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Obama Goes After Farm Subsidies

In a speech just concluded announcing two more economy appointees -- CBO chief Peter Orszag to the Office of Management and Budget and Robert Nabors (House Approp. Comm.) to be his deputy -- President-elect Obama gave an example of one piece of wasteful government spending: farm subsidies.

Obama cited a GAO report out yesterday that said from 2003 to 2006, "millionaire farmers" got $49 million in farm subsidies despite earning more than the $2.5 million cutoff in annual income.

"If it's true," Obama said, "it's a prime example of waste."

With the announcement, Obama joins a long and largely defeated line of presidents and officials who've tried to kill farm subsidies, a perk as deeply ingrained in a nation built on the Jeffersonian Agricultural Ideal as any other.

Subsidies have been constructed and preserved by powerful Midwest lawmakers and are very difficult to pry loose.

To the president-elect, we say: Good luck with that. Let us know how it works out for you.

Orszag, Obama said, "doesn't need a map to tell him where the bodies are buried in the federal budget."

One place to start digging is the Nation's Breadbasket. The president-elect may be wise to be on the lookout for a Combine Army motoring to Washington to preserve the subsidies.

The Post's Dan Morgan, Gilbert Gaul and Sarah Cohen did a terrific series on farm subsidies in 2006. Here's where you can read it.

-- Frank Ahrens

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By Frank Ahrens  |  November 25, 2008; 12:24 PM ET
Categories:  The Ticker  | Tags: Obama, farm subsidies  
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I saw a "zip-code" search of "farmers" getting large subsidies. A surprising number lived in apartments overlooking Central Park. Here in Mississippi, the scam is to divide the Plantation up into the reguired acreage and parcel it out to every member of the family...You end up with an extended family with each member maximizing the payout. Why actually farm?

Posted by: willandjansdad1 | November 25, 2008 12:36 PM | Report abuse

There's a disconnect in this story. Obama says he will enforce the millionaire farmer limit, and you're writing that he's pledging to take down the whole farm subsidy system. Your premise for your tongue-in-cheek suggestions appears way off.

Posted by: Sonyask | November 25, 2008 12:39 PM | Report abuse

Finally, some evidence of change! It's long past time that all farm subsidies are ended, along with high tariffs on imported foods or crop items like sugar.

If Obama can pull this off, there isn't anything he can't do!

Posted by: surfer-joe | November 25, 2008 12:40 PM | Report abuse

Yes, its about time someone took on these overly expensive and market distorting subsidies. Change we can believe in.

Posted by: skeppel | November 25, 2008 12:45 PM | Report abuse

though a farm-raised Iowan myself, I agree that farm subsidies are generally inefficient and that they fail in many ways. that said, some amount of control over our food supply and over how it is created is in our national interest from my point of view. for all the remarks that are often made about how horrible growing conditions are here for animals, do you have any idea how food is produced in china?

Posted by: leighton60 | November 25, 2008 12:50 PM | Report abuse

Well, you gotta start somewhere. This stuff won't pay for itself. I think this is a good place to begin trimming away waste.

Posted by: jhnnywalkr | November 25, 2008 12:55 PM | Report abuse

Individuals and families who feed at the public trough like this should be ashamed. Everyone in this country should look inward and examine their own part in our financial mess. Then vow to be more honest and honorable in the future.

Posted by: bb211 | November 25, 2008 12:59 PM | Report abuse

Hopefully, Obama can cause for a total re-evaluation of farm subsidies. I know that various supports have been lost to farmers in Virginia. However, the millionaire farmers (corporations) are gaming the system. The small farmer takes the hits.

Posted by: EarlC | November 25, 2008 12:59 PM | Report abuse

While it would be just delicious to impose a free-market economy on predominantly red states, the administration must also consider a lot of unintended consequences. I agree that the program is bloated, and I think there are a lot of "farmers" who really don't qualify for the title. However, this could result in massive rural poverty and the loss of a lot of valuable farmland if not executed carefully. Also, there is a reason why our own grocery bills are a smaller percentage of our incomes. Before we start outsourcing our food supply to other nations, we should think about the implications of non-subsidized food.

Posted by: Anglo_Rider | November 25, 2008 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Going after farmers and helping fat cats in the auto industry and Wallstreet? Absurd!.... American farmers are our "protected species" of our food supply. Let's not rely on imports for our food when everything else is already imported. We do have a beautiful fertil land.

Posted by: voice02 | November 25, 2008 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Hahahahah the dummies in Iowa who voted for...

Posted by: whiteja55801 | November 25, 2008 1:04 PM | Report abuse

I'm pretty certain we are still subsidizing tobacco farmers, making us indirectly responsible for killing large numbers of people. We need to preserve the family farms, but I don't think a farmer making 2 and a half million is going to quit farming, if we take away their subsidy, and go get a white or blue collar job. Let's just bring some sense to the table, along with the crops.

Posted by: Tojo1 | November 25, 2008 1:07 PM | Report abuse

Back in the day, dairy farmers were dumping milk in the ocean in order to keep the price of milk high. Today, that would be like OPEC dumping oil in the ocean to keep the price high. Good riddence

Posted by: msreginacomcastnet | November 25, 2008 1:08 PM | Report abuse


I hope Obama guts your entire State economy to give handouts to the "urban poor", it would serve you right for BEING TOO SMART AND TOO CUTE BY HALF DURING THIS ELECTION CYCLE

Posted by: TonyV1 | November 25, 2008 1:12 PM | Report abuse

Finally, some true change. Sold as protecting family farmers these policies are a disgrace. Our agricultural subsidies and protections have killed more people than any of our wars by undermining the livelihoods of the billions of poor in the world that rely on agricultural production just to survive.

The big test is to see if Obama can get Europe to follow suit and end this madness.

Posted by: mwandrews | November 25, 2008 1:16 PM | Report abuse

President-elect Obama does not strike me as a "slash and abandon" personality. Given the extraordinary compensations enjoyed by those throughout the years--those who never earned, nor deserved such largesse--farm subsidies are only the beginning of those million-dollar perks that must and should be included in the overall scheme to return America to the people; after all, American IS its people--all of us--not just the rich, fat and infamous.

Posted by: ConcernedinMD | November 25, 2008 1:25 PM | Report abuse

I couldn't believe the so-called farmers I saw driving around Hummers when I visited old Sam Walton's neighborhood recently... they looked more like Wall Street hucksters than the farmers I remember when I was young. Things have gotten way out of hand indeed.

Posted by: TerrifiedAmerican | November 25, 2008 1:29 PM | Report abuse

Never underestimate the power of all that red power that election maps show---most of it rural/farming, and of the blue dogs in their back yards.

Posted by: Bluefish2012 | November 25, 2008 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, it is all of those powerful Midwestern lawmakers like Senator Obama from corn producing Illinois who are responsible for the last Farm Bill. Is this his road to Damascus moment? Better late than never, but I'm sure Ron Kind (D-WI) could help him with that. Kind sponsored the good Farm Bill that was defeated in favor of the spending bill that was passed as a farm bill.

Posted by: caribis | November 25, 2008 1:30 PM | Report abuse

I was born on an Air Force base and raised on farms until my late teens. I'm glad President Obama will get rid of this waste and return America to sound principles of Truth, Justice, and the American Middle Class Way of Life.

It's about time!

Posted by: WillSeattle | November 25, 2008 1:34 PM | Report abuse

Is it possible that some change might come with these "give-aways" not only to farmers, but also to "bridge to nowheres".I dont think I will hold my breath but I sure would love it.

Posted by: JPiork5603 | November 25, 2008 1:40 PM | Report abuse

This would be a long time coming. What we need are more strong voices to drown out the lobbiests and end the wasteful habit of farm subsidies. Maybe if corn wasnt so subsidized, we could go back to using sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup in everything and improving our health along with our financial status in the world.

Posted by: ncorr | November 25, 2008 1:50 PM | Report abuse

Can you people read? If so, please read what the man said. He didn't say he was going after farm subsidies in general. He specifically said he was going after unlawful farm subsidy payments to farmers making more than the $2.5 million cut-off. That's a drop in the bucket, but it's still a valuable drop, and I say more power to him. Whatever your position on farm subsidies in general, Obama did not say he was going to eliminate all farm subsidies. Frankly, that would be political suicide in places like Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio---all states he carried on November 4, in part because John McCain was utterly clueless on the issues that matter to Midwestern farmers, and all states he will need to win reelection in 2012.

Posted by: bradk1 | November 25, 2008 1:51 PM | Report abuse

If I wanted to spend my political capital angering a constituency group by taking back a subsidy, going after a mere $49M wouldn't be my first choice.

Posted by: collacch | November 25, 2008 1:55 PM | Report abuse

This is a good thing. He said he would go through things line by line. Our problem is America is our bottom line. Corporate greed has brought us low. We blame everyone but who should be blamed. Those seeking to make huge profits at any cost. Millionaires of any kind do not need subsidies. I am looking forward to the return of common sense in this country.

Posted by: 1freethinker1 | November 25, 2008 1:57 PM | Report abuse

No, we do not still subsidize tobacco. The 2002 Farm Bill required a buy-out of all tobacco quotas, to be funded by tobacco companies.

No, dairy farmers do not dump milk into the ocean to keep the price high. They have a price support program in the farm bill.

With respect to GAO's report, it was Congress who set the $2.5 million income limit, but they did not give USDA the authority to mandate compliance, such as through IRS records. Let's hope that these latest findings by Congress's own investigative arm prod them to write some teeth into these laws.

Too, with the 2008 farm bill, it was the administration (USDA) who lobbied for a $200,000 adjusted gross income limit for recipients of farm subsidies. Congress resisted, and the limit was set at $1.5 million per married couple.

As much as many of us welcome Obama's leadership on farm policy reform, this is nothing new. The change must come from a Congress beholden to the farm lobby if there is to be any progress on subsidy reform.

Posted by: tiffany33 | November 25, 2008 2:13 PM | Report abuse

I thought I remember Obama suggesting that he was pro-subsidy before the election wheras McCain went against much of his party buy being against farm subsidies.

After a little research I found that both former candidates were conveniently absent from the Senate during the May vote on the 2008 Farm Bill.

Posted by: Atlas_hugged | November 25, 2008 2:17 PM | Report abuse

"With the announcement, Obama joins a long and largely defeated line of presidents and officials who've tried to kill farm subsidies, . . "

I have a 'sneaky suspicion' that W was NOT in that long line of presidents who tried to kill farm subsidies. No he owed way too many lobbyists and couldn't speak out even if he had the sense to do so, but then again he really has been too stupid to open his mouth about things such as this. I hope Obama will seriously look at this problem which has been magnified over the years and is now out of hand. I don't think for a moment that he would just use a scorched earth policy to cut the waste, but I do believe where he can cut, he will. That should make us all happy [well maybe not the wealthy folks getting richer by the minute on these funds], but it would make a lot of sense and cut at least some of these wasted funds. This has simply been another 'bridge to nowhere' which has left funding for 'real' problems blowing in the wind.

Obama is smart, savvy and will look at everything [which has been necessary for years, but no one has had the cajones to even look, let alone say anything] and as a result, will trim the WASTE as well as the PORK [in earmarks, at least there will NOT be another 'bridge to nowhere' on his watch], along with [hopefully] lots of Defense which is the 'worst' of the very WASTEFUL. There should be lots of avenues and hopefully he will find them all - soon! I wish him well because we need someone who has 'a cool head and will get the job done' - that's why we HIRED 'him'!

Posted by: MadasHelinVA | November 25, 2008 2:26 PM | Report abuse

Why not??? They surely didn't vote for him.. You should see all the McCain signs still on all the subsidized farms around here in NO. Calif.

Posted by: LOrion | November 25, 2008 2:58 PM | Report abuse

WHAT???? Millionaires subsidized by the taxpayers? Noooo...
Profitable farm owners, failing bankers, Auto industry execs - all used to republican handouts Time to stop this BS in it's tracks.
And if you think a combine convoy coming to DC to argue to continue corporate welfare will go over well, go for it.
They might find active violent armed resistance this time.

Posted by: jeffc6578 | November 25, 2008 3:20 PM | Report abuse

Agri-welfare is finally on the way out!

Posted by: kase | November 25, 2008 3:26 PM | Report abuse

Why not??? They surely didn't vote for him.. You should see all the McCain signs still on all the subsidized farms around here in NO. Calif.

Posted by: LOrion | November 25, 2008 3:30 PM | Report abuse

I bet a lot of those farmers receiving welfare from the feds are Repiglicans who complain about how Democrats are against 'personal responsibility' and the free market system. Oh I bet they bristle about 'welfare queens' too. Typical.

Posted by: aardman | November 25, 2008 3:32 PM | Report abuse

Hats off to the hard working men and women who grow our food.

Posted by: voice02 | November 25, 2008 4:14 PM | Report abuse

Obama did not say he was going to eliminate farm subsidies. He is talking about a regulation in place that should be enforced. I think someone is not paying attention to what he said.

Posted by: chlind | November 25, 2008 4:17 PM | Report abuse

I think he should also setup a taskforce go after those people in the government/private sector who spend our money blogging during work hours. This is just one of many things that have to be addressed. (Before you get started, I'm a fixed income retiree!)

Posted by: LookingForward2Tomorrow | November 25, 2008 4:28 PM | Report abuse

I think he should also setup a taskforce go after those people in the government/private sector who spend our money blogging during work hours. This is just one of many things that have to be addressed. (Before you get started, I'm a fixed income retiree!)

Posted by: LookingForward2Tomorrow | November 25, 2008 4:28 PM | Report abuse

Anyone else notice how those ungrateful red states in the rural America hate cultural progress and the government, but they take 2/3 of Federal subsidies while contributing 1/3 in tax revenue? I did and I'm glad Obama has too. Time for "Real America" to start pulling their own weight instead of riding on the coasts coat-tails.

Posted by: theobserver4 | November 25, 2008 4:40 PM | Report abuse

I think he should also setup a taskforce go after those people in the government/private sector who spend our money blogging during work hours. This is just one of many things that have to be addressed. (Before you get started, I'm a fixed income retiree!)

Posted by: LookingForward2Tomorrow

-Get off my lawn you double poster!!!!


Posted by: theobserver4 | November 25, 2008 4:41 PM | Report abuse

Excellent. Given that farm subsidies have--ironically--gone a long way to killing local small-farm-based agriculture, this is good news indeed. A sustainable economy is a local economy. Bring back small farming!

Posted by: madameM | November 25, 2008 4:47 PM | Report abuse

You folks are all so funny. I agree about the farming but really how many of you blogging are getting some sort of government paycheck. A major part of this bailout is money going to keep checks coming to the fed employees and the retirees. The cancer feeding the cancer. No government retirement checks or benefits if the government doesn't have the money on hand. No more printing money. It is a disaster. Quit it. Come on, get back and get focused.

Posted by: calvin3 | November 25, 2008 4:54 PM | Report abuse

Not all harmful farm subsidies occur in the Midwest. The Bureau of Reclamation's irrigation projects in the arid west represent some of the most highly subsidized agriculture in the country. Here in Oregon and California, the Bureau's Klamath Irrigation Project has historically enjoyed not only direct farm subsidies, but also indirect subsidies in the form of below-market electricity rates, taxpayers bearing the burden for environmental harm to salmon and wildlife, and below-market lease rates for lands on two National Wildlife Refuges. And now a last minute Bush administration initiative seeks to increase the Klamath Project's subsidies to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

I hope President-elect Obama will look at all harmful agricultural subsidies with a skeptical eye, and recognize that not all take the form of direct payments to agribusiness in the Midwest.

Posted by: spedery | November 25, 2008 4:57 PM | Report abuse

I agree that Ahren distorts the purpose of the cuts - Obama isn't cutting farm subsidies, he's cutting illegal subsidies of farmers earning over the $2.5 million limit, plain and simple. How come immigrants who pick the crops here without bureaucratic approval to enter/stay here are called illegal aliens, but hustlers who don't grow a kernel of anything but steal millions in what should be legitimate farm subsidies are called "millionaire farmers"?

Posted by: VCubed | November 25, 2008 5:01 PM | Report abuse

The biggest whiners are farmers.They cry about everything and anything,while pigging out at the government trough.Ever see a poor farmer? Neither has anyone else!They all drive 50k trucks and just got back from a Wyoming hunting trip.All courtesy of the sucker taxpayers!!!!

Posted by: jellyhouse56 | November 25, 2008 5:26 PM | Report abuse

Well, it looks like it was altogether true that Obama speaks about the breadbasket of America one way on the West Coast and another way on the East Coast, but in Iowa, Indiana, Missouri, Michigan and other ag communities, he tells everyone exactly what they want to hear.

Well, good luck to all you Iowa Democrats who helped put him in office. I hope he cuts the crap out of all your good old buddy subsidies.

Everyone else, hold on to your pocket books, Obama will cause the food prices to soar and will get what he needs in higher taxes in other ways besides increasing your income taxes.

We can't afford this guy and I for one am proud I have taken the position in opposition. What gave it away for me? As a student of economics, Obama won support preaching fundamentals that are only true if all other economic varriables are held constant. And, the JFK and Kenedy family endorsement meant we were headed for big trouble.

Thanks for thumbing your noses at education America and requiring experience from college graduates from State Universities forcing them to work low level jobs that cause problems paying back student loans. You all picked Obama, you made your bed, now sleep in it.

Posted by: Chris561_561 | November 25, 2008 5:35 PM | Report abuse

I'd hazard a guess that Wall Street bonuses are no less a sacred cow than farm subsidies.

Posted by: DonJasper | November 25, 2008 5:57 PM | Report abuse

What a novel idea! A President willing to enforce (rather than thumb his nose at) the law. No wonder all the neocon-nazi's are up in arms!!!

Posted by: Bushwhacked1 | November 25, 2008 6:00 PM | Report abuse

Anglo_Rider - Well put. The government needs to determine what the impact will be on food prices before they act. Farmers, each depending upon their situation, may decide to quit farming and sell the land (to developers or other farmers) or simply produce so much of their crops (now that the government is not paying them not to grow the crop) that farming becomes a non-profit business (supply exceeds demand and prices drop to the point where the farmer cannot make a profit) and the farmer sells the land (to developers or other farmers).

Posted by: ahashburn | November 25, 2008 6:02 PM | Report abuse

It's time to end subsidies for millionaire farmers, most of whom don't even live on their farms. Most of these corporate farms get richer on the government dole. The single family farms get little help in competition with the big guys. To be paid for not farming is rediculous and is nothing more than a tax-break for large corporations. Get ride of these subsidies and actually have corporate farms grow to the max. Prices will come down in our stores, and real excess will be sold overseas, at a fair price, to people who need the food. Fallow fields are an abomination in my eyes. I lived in SD for fourteen years, and spent many evenings listening to average family farmers talk about the subsidy program. They too saw it as sick and wasteful, and pointed at the wrong people. I hope President-elect Obama and his economic team finally get the job done on this bad program, for the good of all of us.

Posted by: HaroldFCrockettJr | November 25, 2008 6:52 PM | Report abuse

By the way, farming is already a break-even business, if you're a family farm. People continue to do it because they love the land, raising children on the land, and living in a more natural way of existance. A native city-boy, I learned more about life, living in SD, than I ever learned in California. There is a certain peace that only those who live on the land, will ever know.

Posted by: HaroldFCrockettJr | November 25, 2008 6:57 PM | Report abuse

I'd feel better if he said it was $49 Billion rather than million. $49 million is maybe one month's interest payment on the national debt.

Posted by: hc2254 | November 25, 2008 7:10 PM | Report abuse

hey A Burn
A real farmer can't afford to grow a crop that he knows won't sell.
That's like buying high and selling low,
he'd be out of business real quick.

corn don't grow on tree's ya know.

Posted by: jadigger | November 25, 2008 7:11 PM | Report abuse

Oh lawd! The President Elect is shaking up the world!! Shake-it-up, Obama Shake-it-up!!

Posted by: madstamina | November 25, 2008 7:25 PM | Report abuse

Hey hc2254, one month down, 11 months to go!

Posted by: madstamina | November 25, 2008 7:28 PM | Report abuse

Look at a map of Red States vs Blue States and guess which ones are most Red.

But hey, if they REALLY wanted less government, they would be all for it.

Instead look for the "enrich me" republicans to whinge endlessly.

Posted by: mcgrafto | November 25, 2008 7:32 PM | Report abuse

THIS set of maps is about perfect.

Posted by: mcgrafto | November 25, 2008 7:34 PM | Report abuse

I guess I could never understand why we would pay subsidies to farmers for NOT growing crops, when a large portion of the world is starving.

Posted by: helloisanyoneoutthere | November 25, 2008 7:58 PM | Report abuse

Go Obama! It's about time these subsidies came under scrutiny. Stick to your guns, and educate the American people about this transfer of wealth.

Posted by: officermancuso | November 25, 2008 8:01 PM | Report abuse

Cap the payments at a max of $100,000 and the little farmer eats while the big guy doesn't rape the system.

Posted by: jameschirico | November 25, 2008 8:10 PM | Report abuse

"Finally, some true change."

Listen to you people! The guy's only been in office for what, two, three... oh yeah, he's not even in office yet but you expect him to already have fixed everything. It's nuts. At least hold your expectations down to a dull roar. Perhaps, say, double what you would expect of any other incoming president? I'm sure that would be a welcome relief from what most people are demanding.

Posted by: B2O2 | November 25, 2008 9:04 PM | Report abuse

Another move to destroy one of America's great industries. Obama should have announced his didain for farmers before the election. He would have lost Ohio, Iowa, and some other farming states as well. This move will turn farmers into Democratic voting government dependents while expanding trade markets for international corporations. More of the same from Mr. Hope and Change.

Posted by: rpatoh | November 25, 2008 11:19 PM | Report abuse

Reforming "farm subsidy" may yet start the unravel - to get to the root of the financial crisis, which in turn has lead to the meltdown. There are simply too much loose currencies to speculate and inflate the bubble or bubbles. When there is free cash overload, productivity becomes a game.

Posted by: wwt101 | November 25, 2008 11:29 PM | Report abuse

Maybe Obama is a closet Conservative or Republican plant. He's keeping Gates/Petreus on the job, ending farm subsidies, not cancelling the Bush tax cuts, talking about cutting the budget.

I voted for McCain, but maybe Obama is the more Conservative choice after all!

Posted by: pgr88 | November 26, 2008 12:08 AM | Report abuse

To all of you that support the subsidy cut. You are all idiots. You are not educated in what you are talking about. Do you know that the price of wheat per bushel within the last 5 years was what it was in the 50's. Great,lets take from the farmers who built this country and give to the poor minorities and illegals who want to live off the system. And lets make partial birth abortion legal while we are at it. Lets take God out of the schools and make gay marriages legal for a bonus. But as liberals supporting abortion, lets not believe in the death penalty for someone that deserves to die. I cant believe what has become of this once great country. God help us.

Posted by: oldamericanvalues | November 26, 2008 2:28 AM | Report abuse

Great news. Next on the agenda - getting rid of ridiculous alternative energy subsidies.

Posted by: bsp1019 | November 26, 2008 10:00 AM | Report abuse

I used to believe, as all you did. That farmers were fat lazy cats who got substidies and only planted a little food. Then, I went to work on a wheat farm in Eastern Washington. I got a two-year education about the facts.
Newsflash! With or without substidies, farmers here are broke and going out of business because of trippling costs and volitile market prices. Only one-tenth of one percent of the Farm Bill goes to farmers.
When you run out food, get hungry and wars break out over food shortages world-wide, call me. We can talk. Until then, keep praising Obama for his nieve attacks on Farmers while CEO's continue to fly into Washington D.C. for billions in handouts.
Wow, change. It will be an interesting change.

Posted by: jennifer_bates225 | November 27, 2008 2:29 PM | Report abuse

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