Do catfish deserve a separate inspection service at a cost to taxpayers of $30 million? This and other fishy amendments to the $969 billion farm bill drew the ire of Sen. John McCain today.
More than 100 amendments have been filed to the bill that weighs in at a whopping 1,010 pages. At a cost of $969 billion over 10 years, that's about $1 billion per page of legislation, a 60 percent increase from the previous far bill which passed in 2008.
McCain, the king of busting pork barrel spending, took to the Senate floor this morning to highlight – ie: mock– the most egregious additions in the bill.
"A farm bill being 1,000 pages long is filled with special deals for special interests," McCain said today. "When we examine the bill, we find more and more of these kinds of special interest, unnecessary spending and programs that either are protectionist in nature, programs that have been inserted sometimes in the past in the middle of the night."
McCain debuted a "Top Ten" list of the worst offenders in the farm bill, which he deemed "ugly."
Atop the list, the farm bill creates a new USDA office to inspect catfish. The price tag is hefty: $30 million to create the office and $14 million each year thereafter – for an office, McCain notes, to inspect catfish, which are already inspected by the FDA.
"Catfish farmers have tried to argue that we need a catfish inspection office to ensure Americans are eating safe and healthy catfish," McCain said. "I wholeheartedly agree that catfish should be safe for consumers. The problem is, FDA already inspects catfish, just as it does all seafood, screening it for biological and chemical hazards."
Also leading the list, the inclusion in the bill of a carve-out for popcorn subsidies.
"Under the farm bill, popcorn will be subsidized to the tune of $91 million over ten years," McCain said. "There isn't a kernel of evidence that they need this subsidy."
Beans and peas attracted McCain's wrath. The bill calls for $25 million to study the health benefits of peas, lentils and garbanzo beans.
"I know that mothers all over America that have advocated for their children to eat their peas will be pleased to know that there's a study that's going to cost them $25 million to study the health benefits of peas, lentils and garbanzo beans," McCain said.
Other worst offenders noted by McCain: $200 million for the value-added grant program which gives grants to novelty producers like small wineries and cheese makers and $40 million in grants from the Department of Agriculture to encourage private landowners to use their land for bird watching or hunting.
It should be noted that McCain himself has a "non-germane" amendment to the farm bill which would require the administration to report by August on the full effects of the $500 billion in automatic defense cuts slated to take effect starting next year.
Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., has noted that "this isn't your father's farm bill." This was directed at the fact that the bill, notorious for being weighed down with pork barrel spending in years past, actually cuts $23.6 billion this time around over the same period. This fact was not lost on Mr. McCain
"I acknowledge the senate bill generates $23 billion in savings and that's a notable economy – accomplishment," McCain said, "unfortunately, it seems that Congress's idea of a farm bill reform is to eliminate one subsidy program only to invent a new one to take its place."