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Friday, June 7, 2013

Have they No Shame, part 2 million

There is generally no bill that moves through Congress other than the annual Defense budget bill that get me as upset as the Farm Bill. Seems like an innocuous sort of thing - Save the Farmers and all that. But this article in the NYT summarizes a little of my frustration with it, which usually has to do with the corporate welfare given to mega-agribusiness monstrosities like Monsanto and Archer-Daniels-Midland. Now the Rs aren't content just to do that, now they want to take food out of the mouths of the working poor at the same time:

The current versions of the Farm Bill in the Senate (as usual, not as horrible as the House) and the House (as usual, terrifying) could hardly be more frustrating. The House is proposing $20 billion in cuts to SNAP — equivalent, says Beckmann, to “almost half of all the charitable food assistance that food banks and food charities provide to people in need.” [2]

Deficit reduction is the sacred excuse for such cruelty, but the first could be achieved without the second. Two of the most expensive programs are food stamps, the cost of which has justifiably soared since the beginning of the Great Recession [3] , and direct subsidy payments.
This pits the ability of poor people to eat — not well, but sort of enough — against the production of agricultural commodities. That would be a difficult choice if the subsidies were going to farmers who could be crushed by failure, but in reality most direct payments go to those who need them least.
Among them is Congressman Stephen Fincher, Republican of Tennessee, who justifies SNAP cuts by quoting 2 Thessalonians 3:10: “For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.”
Even if this quote were not taken out of context — whoever wrote 2 Thessalonians was chastising not the poor but those who’d stopped working in anticipation of the second coming — Fincher ignores the fact that Congress is a secular body that supposedly doesn’t base policy on an ancient religious text that contradicts itself more often than not. Not that one needs to break a sweat countering his “argument,” but 45 percent of food stamp recipients are children, and in 2010, the U.S.D.A. reported that as many as 41 percent are working poor.
This would be just another amusing/depressing example of an elected official ignoring a huge part of his constituency (about one in seven Americans rely on food stamps, though it’s one in five in Tennessee, the second highest rate in the South), were not Fincher himself a hypocrite.
For the God-fearing Fincher is one of the largest recipients of U.S.D.A. farm subsidies in Tennessee history; he raked in $3.48 million in taxpayer cash from 1999 to 2012, $70,574 last year alone. The average SNAP recipient in Tennessee gets $132.20 in food aid a month; Fincher received $193 a day. (You can eat pretty well on that.) [4]
Fincher is not alone in disgrace, even among his Congressional colleagues, but he makes a lovely poster boy for a policy that steals taxpayer money from the poor and so-called middle class to pay the rich, while propping up a form of agriculture that’s unsustainable and poisonous.

We are so used to welfare for the wealthy that most of us, sadly, shrug it off. But a Farm Bill extension does give an opportunity to end direct subsidy payments, rein in crop insurance, and protect the programs that are critical to our national identity and benefit those who deserve it.
It’s a simple solution, says Cox: “The legislators could decide not to reauthorize direct payments and invest some of the savings in good programs while still hitting budget reduction targets.” The Congressional Budget Office reports that this action would save about $5 billion per year, far more than the proposed potential savings of cutting SNAP and other beneficial programs while enhancing crop insurance. (The Senate proposes saving less than $2 billion annually, the House just over $3 billion.)
In other words, without hurting conservation or poor people or foreign aid or progressive and traditional farming, you could achieve targeted savings simply by letting direct payments go away and refusing to boost the crop insurance scam.
Boosters of crop insurance on steroids simply want a government guarantee of farm revenue. Maybe you don’t want to scream “communism!” but it’s the type of guarantee that no other industry in this country would dare to dream of.
Avoid fatalism: Call your representative (or at least support those agencies that are doing so) and insist that payments to people like Fincher be ended without replacing them with other subsidies to big ag. Let’s at least try to protect the poor, the environment and our national health.
The alternative is to wait for the second coming.

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