B: The Farm Bill: Where a Bipartisan Approach Hurts

Today Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) joined her Republican colleague in the Missouri delegation and voted against restoring 4.5 million dollars in Food Stamp Aid to the pending farm bill. The amendment, offered by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), failed 33 to 63.

The farm bill, however, does continue to reward big agribusiness. Although it cuts direct subsidies to farmers, it increases other wasteful payouts:

Even as the bill eliminates the direct payments program, [...] it would create a new wasteful subsidy program called "Risk Coverage" that would effectively lock in profits for the largest corn and soy growers -- costing taxpayers an estimated $29 billion over the next 10 years.

Just as bad, the bill would continue the "crop insurance program." In 2011, taxpayers paid over $7 billion for these subsidies -- including giant, already profitable operations. Most businesses would give their left leg to get the same kind of deal.

Gillbrand proposed curbing those subsidies to pay for restoring the food stamp funding:

Gillibrand had hoped to prevent food aid cuts in the $969 billion bill by trimming the guaranteed profit for crop insurance companies from 14 to 12 percent and by lowering payments for crop insurers from $1.3 billion to $825 million.

Lest there be any doubt about who profits from this bill as it stands:

Giant agribusinesses like Monsanto and Cargill are pushing hard to pass this bill -- they spent over $200 million in lobbying and campaign contributions in 2008 alone.

Now, about the amendment to restore food stamps: True, it affects only a specific segment of those who receive them:

The cuts target the so-called heat-and-eat initiative in which 14 states automatically make families eligible for more food aid if they receive even $1 in help paying their utility bills. The Congressional Budget Office estimated the decrease would amount to about $90 a month for an affected family, representing a quarter of its food budget.

How'd you like to lose 25% of your food budget? Now think how hard that might be when you're unemployed, disabled or a senior on a fixed income.  Not exactly pleasant, is it?  

Republicans have responded to the rising numbers of families using food stamps by pretending to be worried that it signals not rising poverty, but growing moral turpitude, an "entitlement" mentality. Nevermind that the Bush recession basically socked it to the American people and that many, many more Americans have had to rely on the social safety net the GOP wishes to decimate. Currently 15% of Americans depend on food stamps. According to the Under Secretary of Agriculture for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services:

"The numbers of people on SNAP reflect the economic challenges people are facing across the country," Mr. Concannon said. "Folks who have lost their jobs or are getting fewer hours. These people haven't been invented."

Robert Reich asserts that "regressive Republicans pretend they're about opportunity. In reality they're back at what they've been doing for years - promoting Social Darwinism." He is, of course, right to a certain extent. The problem, however, lies in the fact that while it may be Social Darwinism for me and thee, it's helping hands all around for corporations,  big agribusiness, the Montsantos, and Cargills - all the folks with the wide open pocket books.

Despite all the big talk about entitlement societies, in the end it all boils down to whose interests the pols are going to stand up for. I thought I knew who Democrats went to bat for - which is why it's so painful to see Claire McCaskill cross the partisan aisle on this one. It's a sorry situation when even Massachusetts' GOP Senator Scott Brown, who voted for the amendment, manages to position himself to the left of Missouri's Democratic senator.  

 

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