… a question unrelated to areas of economics and policy with which I am familiar. Today the U.S. House of Representatives voted down their farm bill proposal. Brad Plumer helpfully provides a pie chart summarizing the spending that the proposed bill would have authorized:
What do you notice? The proposed funding for the SNAP program is enormous, swamping the proposed funding for other programs. Even so, the proposed cuts to SNAP were at the margin what led a lot of representatives to vote against the bill.
Having SNAP and nutrition-related social policy programs in the farm bill makes no sense to me. It seems to me that a lot of the persistence of bad, obsolete, inefficient agricultural policy (agricultural subsidies etc.) is due to the political bargaining and log-rolling that occurs to protect SNAP — if you vote for the SNAP funding I want for my low-income constituents, I’ll vote for the government cheese purchases you want for your dairy farmer constituents. See how this works?
Of course, if there were no mandated cheese purchases to support cheese prices, perhaps low-income families would not find their food prices high enough to cause them budget problems …
So does anyone have either the incentive or the cojones to streamline these programs by moving SNAP into the Health and Human Services budget, and out of the Dept. of Ag. budget? SNAP in HHS makes more sense to me.
In theory, the country would eventually revert to the agricultural rules written back in 1949, when the last permanent farm bill was enacted (subsequent bills have all been temporary). That 1949 act was crafted for a very different United States, with smaller crop production and higher consumer prices. So, for instance, dairy prices would skyrocket once outdated price supports came back into effect.
Also in theory (particularly game theory), the reversion outcome is sufficiently bleak to induce action to generate a better alternative. The whole fiscal cliff kabuki theater episode demonstrated that this theoretical prediction is false. Either our “representatives” are sufficiently irrational that they aren’t attracted by the lure of a superior outcome, or they are playing a different game, with a different objective function, from the one posited in the naive strategic model of political decision-making.