The Congressional Budget Office’s score of the farm bill passed in the Senate estimates that it would save $23 billion (versus the current baseline) over ten years. It’s score of the bill that came out of the House Agriculture Committee estimates savings of $35 billion. However, the previous three farm bills ended up costing more than the CBO originally estimated:

  • The 1996 farm bill was supposed to phase out farm subsidies. Instead, crop prices fell and Congress responded with multiple “emergency” bailouts. From a 2001 paper on farm subsidies written by Chris Edwards and me:

When the FAIR Act was passed, the Congressional Budget Office projected that $47 billion would be spent on direct farm subsidies during its seven-year authorization. Instead, direct farm subsidies will end up costing $118 billion, including projected spending for fiscal 2002, over seven years.

  • The CBO estimated that the six-year cost of the 2002 farm bill’s major provisions would be $264 billion. According to the Congressional Research Service, the actual cost was $270 billion. That’s pretty close, but only because much larger outlays for food stamps exceeded much lower outlays for farm subsidies.
  • The CBO estimated that the five-year cost of the 2008 farm bill’s major provisions would be $272 billion. ACongressional Research Service report from December 2010 estimated that the bill would end up costing $402 billion. Commodity programs came in lower, but crop insurance and, in particular, food stamps, came in much higher. Whatever the actual final tally ends up being, it will certainly be higher than what was originally projected.

The point isn’t to beat up on CBO. The point is that trying to project how much a bill is going to cost over ten years – let alone one year – is an inexact science. The cost of farm subsidies depends in part on commodity prices and yields. The cost of food stamps depends in part on the condition of the economy. And Congress can decide to facilitate more spending on these programs whenever it wants. Thus, claims made by members of Congress that either farm bill will save taxpayers X amount of money over the next ten years should be met with the rolling of eyeballs.

Will Farm Bills Save Taxpayers Money? is a post from Cato @ Liberty – Cato Institute Blog

The 10th Amendment

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”



Featured Articles

On the Constitution, history, the founders, and analysis of current events.

featured articles


Tenther Blog and News

Nullification news, quick takes, history, interviews, podcasts and much more.

tenther blog


State of the Nullification Movement

232 pages. History, constitutionality, and application today.

get the report


Path to Liberty

Our flagship podcast. Michael Boldin on the constitution, history, and strategy for liberty today

path to liberty


Maharrey Minute

The title says it all. Mike Maharrey with a 1 minute take on issues under a 10th Amendment lens. maharrey minute

Tenther Essentials

2-4 minute videos on key Constitutional issues - history, and application today


Join TAC, Support Liberty!

Nothing helps us get the job done more than the financial support of our members, from just $2/month!



The 10th Amendment

History, meaning, and purpose - the "Foundation of the Constitution."

10th Amendment



Get an overview of the principles, background, and application in history - and today.