While the U.S. economy as a whole remains sluggish, the farm sector has been doing well. Exceptionally well, in fact.

Last year, net farm income was a record $101 billion, and it’s expected to be only slightly off the pace in 2012. With the national debt ballooning and the federal deficit still well over $1 trillion, you’d think lawmakers would be determined to seriously scale back taxpayer support for agriculture.

But you’d be wrong. True, the farm bill endorsed recently by the Senate Agriculture Committee calls for a $23 billion drop in farm programs over 10 years.

Yet that’s just $2.3 billion a year — a pittance relative to the deficit. The bill does include a few welcome changes. It would do away with the fixed-payments program, which has doled out $5 billion a year to farmers whether or not they grew anything in that year. And it would eliminate a handful of other programs for more savings.

Keep in mind that producers of many crops, such as fruits and vegetables as well as beef and poultry, somehow manage to survive largely free of taxpayer subsidies.

Pat Roberts of Kansas, the ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, said the Senate measure belonged in the familiar category of “not the best possible bill but the best bill possible.”

If that discouraging evaluation proves correct, then the prospect of ever seeing real spending discipline in Washington seems pretty remote.