No less a free-marketeer than George W. Bush had high praise for a farm bill laden with $83 billion in government subsidies. "It helps America's farmers, and therefore it helps America," he said at the May signing.
But a closer look at the farm bill that takes effect Aug. 1 shows that two of the biggest beneficiaries are not really farmers. A deeply buried provision raises the level of subsidies to cotton mills and shippers. Sources tell TIME those businesses could reap $1.5 billion over the next six years--at a higher rate of increase than what Congress provided for cotton farmers themselves.
First passed in 1990, the cotton-shipper/mill subsidy program seeks to foster sales of American raw cotton by paying the difference between U.S. and foreign prices. But sources say politics was as strong an incentive as sales for the increase in the program this election year. The National Cotton Council, which gives generously to both parties, led the lobbying, representing such mills as Milliken & Co. and shippers like Dunavant Enterprises, whose owners also contribute heavily to campaigns. --By Michael Weisskopf