The farm bill is one of the swampiest pieces of legislation DC politicians pass. It represents an unholy alliance between rural lawmakers looking to give wealthy farmers more taxpayer subsidies and lawmakers with more urban and destitute constituencies looking to expand food stamps.
Principled lawmakers have long sought reforms to both sides of the farm bill equation, including work requirements for food stamps and decreasing government subsidies, repealing price controls, and regulatory reform on the agricultural side. Unfortunately, the agricultural lobbying industry has prevented any meaningful reforms.
The sugar lobby is the poster child of agriculture subsidy cronyism. For decades, they have blocked reforms to the farm bill sugar program. It is easy to see why: by providing both a price floor and numerous programs to decrease the sugar supply, the program artificially inflates the price of sugar, and therefore the income of sugar producers.
In 2014, Rep. Ron DeSantis was one of only 63 Republicans to vote against H.R. 2642, the Agricultural Act also known as the “farm bill.” The bill failed to include work requirements for food stamps and was projected by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to cost taxpayers $940 billion—56 percent more than the previous farm bill.
Despite all the special interests pushing for its passage, DeSantis put action behind his principles and voted against the fiscally irresponsible farm bill because it was “a bad deal for taxpayers and contains little in the way of meaningful reforms.” DeSantis was right. As a result of farm bill policies, U.S. sugar now costs about double the world price.
Many political veterans in “The Swamp” thought his farm bill vote would mark the end of his political career, but the American people are beginning to understand that “politics as usual” must end. DeSantis is now one of the leading candidates in the Florida governor’s race.
It’s no wonder he has recently come under fire from established parochial special interests, who are spinning his conservative farm bill vote in 2014 as a giveaway of food stamps to illegal immigrants. Yes, you read that correctly. Because Section 4015 of the farm bill says “a state agency shall be required to use an immigration status verification system,” opponents of DeSantis claim he voted to allow illegal immigrants to receive food stamps.
Reportedly, the origin of these attacks is political operatives with ties to the sugar lobby, a powerful special interest group in Florida. Thankfully, this laughable accusation was set straight by PolitiFact, which rated the claim “Pants on Fire!” and noted “the farm bill didn’t change immigrant eligibility rules for food and nutrition assistance.”
Although a majority of Republicans voted to limit the sugar subsidies in 2013, DeSantis was one of only two members of Congress from Florida to support the amendment. Lawmakers had a clear choice: to continue status quo cronyism and big government, or to lift a costly burden on taxpayers and consumers.
Voters in Florida are very familiar with swamps. They know DeSantis’s time in Washington DC was spent draining “The Swamp,” not filling it with government subsidies, regulations, and handouts. As lawmakers consider this year’s farm bill, they should take courage from DeSantis, who fought the special interests and won.