At some point Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.) might just want to stop talking about the farm bill and his support for ending the direct payment program (which doesn’t actually end for cotton farmers like him) and how much he supports “reform.” Especially in light of the millions of taxpayer dollars he has personally collected and his virulent opposition to the nutrition assistance program known as SNAP. Until he does though, it seems like he can’t stop putting his foot in his mouth.
Earlier this week, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) released a report fingering 14 Republican lawmakers who have accepted $7.2 million in generous taxpayer-funded farm subsidies – and then brazenly voted for an amendment by Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.) that would have encouraged states to kick people off SNAP.
Included in the 14 is Rep. Fincher, who banked $3.48 million in taxpayer money from 1999 to 2012, including $70,000 in direct payments just last year. Of course, many other members of Congress have cashed in on federal farm subsidies, too, including the 14 profiled in Rep. Miller’s report. But what makes Fincher’s case so interesting is that he continually says that he supports reform and that the farm bill passed by the House of Representatives with his support will finally end the egregious direct payment program.
In response to the release of the report, this is what Fincher had to say in a statement:
“As I’ve long said, the farm bill is in need of major reform. At first chance, I voted to remove direct payments. Both the House and the Senate passed bills that end direct payments, and as we move forward, I hope we can work out the rest of the issues to implement the necessary reforms.”
Yet three times – once in committee and twice on the House floor – what Fincher voted for was a farm bill that, contrary to what he and others have said, actually extends direct payments for cotton growers for an extra two years. It also creates a cotton-only crop insurance program called STAX. Unlike the crop insurance program for other commodities, in which taxpayers subsidize an average of 62 percent of farmers’ premiums, taxpayers would pick up a full 80 percent of the premiums for cotton farmers. The two-year extension of direct payments for cotton would cost taxpayers $823 million.
It’s apparent that Fincher isn’t actually interested in reform. It’s even remotely possible that he doesn’t know what’s in the farm bill he supported three times. But maybe he’s just counting on voters not knowing or caring that he’s talking out of both sides of his mouth. Or maybe his constituents are just getting used to that, considering that a couple of months ago, during the House Agriculture Committee consideration of the bill, Fincher said:
“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.”
He said that while voicing his support of draconian cuts to SNAP and opposing efforts to restore the funding. It’s worth noting that last year, when Fincher hauled in $70,000 from taxpayers, the average monthly SNAP payment in Tennessee was just $132.20.
Maybe Fincher has said that the House farm bill ends the direct payment program so often that he actually believes it. Or maybe he’s just hoping that that people aren’t paying attention. In June he told a reporter from his district:
“We voted to do away with the direct payment system, the farm subsidy program as we know it. It's gone.”
Later that month, at a seemingly unrelated House Natural Resources Committee hearing, he said it again:
“For the first time in the history of the farm bill, the direct payments… are going away.”
Actually, no. For cotton farmers like Fincher, direct payments will keep on coming for two years anyway. And no matter how you look at it, the House farm bill would be extremely lucrative for him – and you’d be hard pressed to call it reform.