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How the Fincher Stole Christmas (for the cotton industry)

How the Fincher Stole Christmas (for the cotton industry)

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

What could a member of Congress who has collected more than $3 million in federal cotton subsidies want in his Christmas stocking this year? If you’re Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.), the answer is: more taxpayer giveaways to cotton farmers.

AgMag readers will remember that in 2013, Fincher notably argued that Congress should not “steal” taxpayer money to pay for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, often called food stamps, all the while banking generous taxpayer-paid support himself.

That’s right. Last week, Fincher was one of 100 members of Congress who wrote to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on the cotton industry’s behalf, requesting that the U.S. Department of Agriculture add cottonseed to the list of crops eligible for subsidy payments under the federal Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage programs. (Cottonseed, which is pressed to make oil and animal feed, accounts for about 15 percent of the value of the total cotton crop.)

As EWG Senior Economic Analyst Anne Weir noted, cotton farmers got a pillowy revenue insurance deal in the 2014 farm bill that guarantees them up to 90 percent of the expected revenue in an “area,” usually the farmer’s county. In return for their very own income support program – called the Stacked Income Protection Plan, or STAX – the growers agreed they wouldn’t dip into the other two programs – Agriculture Risk and Price Loss. Now they want it all.

Rep. Fincher wasn’t the only beneficiary of taxpayer support who joined the 100-member letter. Reps. Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.), Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), David Valadeo (R-Calif.) and Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) have all feasted on federal commodity subsidies in the past and are now proponents of further expanding income guarantees for cotton farmers. 

In an apparent split with the rest of the fiscally conservative members of the House Freedom Caucus, two of the House’s fiscal hawks, Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), also joined in appealing for increased government payments to cotton farmers. That’s an interesting wrinkle, given that crop insurance costs have reached an all-time high since Congress eliminated the “direct payments” program in the 2014 Farm Bill.

Following a House Agriculture Committee hearing on the cotton industry two weeks ago, everyone from the American Soybean Association to the House’s top subsidy recipients are pushing Secretary Vilsack to sweeten the deal for the country’s largest cotton farmers. With that kind of pressure, taxpayers should get ready to expect a big lump of coal in their stockings this year.



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