Lafrenz: Exploitation of the farm bill

Nick Lafrenz

A subsidy is, by definition, a sum of money granted by the government or a public body to assist an industry or business so that the price of a commodity or service may remain low or competitive. By any other name, subsidies are seen as an undermining of the ideals and foundations of capitalism.

But we do not reside in the paradise of capitalism which is lauded as the building bricks of our great nation. Instead, crony-capitalism has run rampant in the government, especially within the realms of the farm bill, which has now been waiting for more than a year to be passed. Business will inevitably use their power to influence governments, only serving as a wedge in the democratic process. 

In the political landscape of the United States, the GOP is the last party you would expect to find in support of subsidies of any form, let alone those which are largely wasteful. This conflicting reality clashes with the idea of a free market, which is so grossly celebrated as the solution to all of our worldly issues by the GOP.

Yet, as is visible by the blatant abuse of this system, they are used as a political bargaining chip to leverage their support with groups such as Heritage Action and Club for Growth, which, in turn, lobby for even more lucrative endorsements within the new farm bill. Lobbying for more money for farmers seems like the next step in the logical progression of defending the “poor farmers” from big government and getting them what they deserve for feeding the tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to eat.

What is rarely brought up in these discussions is that there was a 79 percent increase in farm profits from 2009 to 2012. Farm income has increased from $75.6 billion in 2009 to $134.7 billion in 2013. With support for the farm bill at a critical point, a bipartisan group of 20 senators wrote a letter to the Senate minority and majority leaders. The letter stated they will not support a farm bill extension that includes the direct payments, which is guaranteed free money, in a time when the agricultural industry is booming in terms of profits.

It is almost unfathomable that we live in a society that allows a party that is dying a slow and ravenous death to use morally and ethically abhorrent tactics to reap unnecessary, unneeded and undeserving profits for both themselves and those with the power to support them.

“Without regard to whether we supported the Senate farm bill or opposed it, we all agree that Congress should not consider another extension of the 2008 farm bill that continues direct payments,” the senators wrote. “Such an outcome would represent a costly regression in light of the U.S. Senate’s bipartisan efforts to eliminate this multibillion-dollar subsidy.”

Few people know that the funding for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program comes from the farm bill. In fact, more than 80 percent of the bill goes toward this necessary program, which “offers nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low-income individuals and families and provides economic benefits to communities,” according to the official SNAP website. Iowa’s own U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, who laments the Democratic party as an uncontrollable spending machine, has received more than $900,000 dollars in government subsidies for his personal farm from 1995 to 2013. That is not fiscal responsibility.

What we are seeing is a colossal failure to represent the needs of the constituents who, in many cases, did not even vote for these representatives. This is due to the almost comical amount of gerrymandering which takes place in many of the states receiving the majority of these benefits.

Women, the elderly and children are those who are under threat of losing the program, which puts a meager amount of food on the dinner table each night, all so larger farms can reap the benefits of larger direct payments, which are delivered regardless of how well the harvest turns out. The average farm household had $7,274 monthly income in 2011, compared with $744 in average monthly household income for food stamp recipients that year.

This is a tenfold difference in incomes, yet those with less are expected to take it on the chin, as if it is their God-given duty to do so. The Republican Party serves an an obstruction to the ending of corporate welfare, which is detrimental to any capitalistic economy.

Republicans are not the fiscally responsible party. They are a party that utilizes the tools available to them, exploiting those in need for their own monetary gains.