On the Very Idea of the Agricultural Committee

The Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill has turned into a feeding frenzy for special interests, as Reason’s Ron Bailey warned back in April. Prominently elbowing its way to the public trough, as usual, is Big Agriculture:

Because they are the source of most carbon emissions, factories, power plants and oil refineries would all be covered by the caps and be required to buy the permits, or allowances, as they are called. The one major source that is not covered is the American farm…. But, for farmers, it wasn’t enough to get a free pass on carbon emissions…. In the mind of the entitled American farmer, any increase in costs or reduction in revenue—whether from natural causes, market forces or government regulation—must be compensated for by the government.

This doesn’t come as a surprise, given the other boondoggles caused by the farm lobby’s disproportionate political influence (ethanol and the farm bill, to name a few). One institutional reason for the farm lobby’s clout is Congress’s committee structure. As Matt Yglesias explains,

One basic problem of democratic governance relates to concentrated interests versus diffuse ones. Organizing broad groups of people to advance the public interest in the face of entrenched opposition is difficult. And the committee structure is like it was designed to make this problem as bad as possible.

Ezra Klein proposes an obvious solution: get rid of agricultural committees. Agriculture is the only industry that gets legislative committees all to itself (not to mention an entire executive department). Maybe this made sense back in the 19th century, when the United States was still mostly an agrarian economy. But now that the agricultural sector employs only two percent of workers in the United States, agricultural committees have been reduced to serving as conduits between public funds and special interests, making already dreadful bills like Waxman-Markey even worse. Why do we need this problem?

Reason’s Anthony Randazzo has more on the travesty that is Waxman-Markey here.