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AgMag BLOG

Feeding your mind, saving the planet >>

Tea For Me, Not For You

Thursday, May 16, 2013

A day after the Senate Agriculture committee passed its version of the 2013 farm bill, the House committee did the same. The Senate wrongly trimmed nutrition and conservation programs while boosting crop insurance subsidies.  The House version, voted out of committee late last night, supercharged these cuts by chopping a draconian $20 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps.

Millions of Americans, including veterans, senior citizens and children, rely on this food assistance to meet basic daily needs. Ardent, tireless hunger advocate Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) offered an amendment during the markup process to restore money to SNAP.  The amendment was sadly defeated. Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.) issued a starkly hypocritical defense of the cuts, first by quoting the Bible:

The one unwilling to work will not eat. 

Then Fincher proclaimed:

We are all here on this committee making decisions about other people’s money. We have to remember there is not a big printing press in Washington that continually prints money over and over.  This is other people’s money that Washington is appropriating and spending.

We represent the people’s money and we have to be good stewards of that.

Fincher is no stranger to the “people’s money.”  He received a whopping $3.4 million in taxpayer-funded farm subsidies from 1999 to 2011. For comparison, the average monthly SNAP payment in 2012 was just $133.41.

While Fincher has been extremely successful in gobbling as much of the people’s money as he can, his defense of subsidies has been dismissed as hollow.  When first asked about his dependence on government while riding the Tea Party wave into Congress, Fincher called the figures a lie. When confronted with the facts, he quickly changed his tune and called the data we get directly from USDA an “exaggeration.”

And in defending his millions in government payments, Fincher and his spokespeople have made forceful commitments to change the farm subsidy regime:

"The farm subsidy program is something that was put into place over 60 years ago and it was put into place to do one thing and it's turned into something else," Fincher added. "Do we need farm program reform? Absolutely." – The Memphis Commercial Appeal, June 6, 2010.

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He [Fincher] said he plans on working to reform the program if he is elected and that he has the knowledge and will to do it. – Jackson Sun, June 20, 2010.

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Matt McCullough, a senior adviser to the Fincher campaign, e-mailed a statement.

"Stephen's never had a chance to vote on the farm program. He's committed to reform of the farm program, including subsidies, but knows the Washington culture must itself be changed.” Jackson Sun, June 6, 2010.

Since Fincher arrived in Washington, he has had made no attempt to fulfill his promises to reform farm subsidies. And just last night he got his opportunity to cast a vote to expand federal crop insurance subsidies by $9 billion that go mostly to the largest, most profitable agribusinesses in America.

Thankfully during the debate Rep Ann Kuster (D – N.H.) pushed back on Fincher’s attacks on feeding programs by highlighting the inequitable parts of the farm bill, saying:

You will be asking me later in this mark up to spend billions of dollars on direct aid, on commodities and on corporations that get wealthier and wealthier and wealthier and you are asking me whether we cant afford as a nation to feed starving children $1.32 per meal.

Fincher wasn’t the only member of the House Agriculture Committee vocally backing cuts to the hungry last night while plunging both fists into the federal trough.  Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.) received a staggering $4.9 million in taxpayer funded farm subsidies from 1995 to 2011. He also voted to expand crop insurance subsidies by $9 billion.

The nation’s crop insurance program has created a playing field that is badly tilted in favor of the largest and most successful farms. Under current law, there is no limit on who can receive premium support or the amount they can receive. As a result, 26 policyholders received more than $1 million apiece in crop insurance premium support in 2011, and more than 10,000 policyholders received more than $100,000 each.

By contrast, the bottom 80 percent of farm businesses received only about $5,000 apiece to help them purchase insurance policies.

Second, by virtually eliminating risk, crop insurance subsidies are encouraging farmers to plow up wetlands and prairies, a trend that is increasing water pollution, releasing more carbon into the atmosphere and destroying wildlife habitat. The Senate bill would require farmers to adopt basic environmental protections, but it also offers new subsidies to buy even higher levels of insurance coverage, which increase the incentives to farm marginal land, further degrading the environment.