Friday, June 21, 2013

Some Thoughts of Summer and a Farm Bill

Tonight, all was right with my world as I drove home from work. The evening sky was pink tinged, the day had been mild with a slight breeze and low humidity and we were on the eve of the summer solstice. The tiger lilies were dotting the country roads as I traveled. Could the fields of Queen Anne's Lace, Black-eyed Susans and summer cornstalks be far behind? Turning on the classical music station, I heard waltz music, which brought memories of films with grand ballrooms, and visions of swirling dancers and fabulous costumes from long ago epics. The strange tornado that hit our Maryland suburbs last week seemed far behind us tonight.

But my reverie was interrupted as I heard news about the House of Representatives defeat of the Farm Bill tonight. Finger pointing had already started with Republicans blaming Democrats and vice-versa. Speaker Boehner and his Majority Leader Cantor did not count their votes well as many members of their own party also voted against this bill. Maryland's Steny Hoyer accepted none of the blame voiced by Cantor, claiming that Democrats voted against a bad bill not as a result of poor bi-partisan ship. Not that I minded this defeat, as Hoyer was correct. This was a bad bill.

But in what has come to be typical of this divided Congress, the Democrats and the conservative Tea Partiers both voted against this bill for vastly different reasons. The Tea Party folks wanted to cut and restrict food stamp funds even more than the rest of their party. Essentially they wanted to cut $40 billion over ten years with half of that cut coming from the food stamp or SNAP program which supplements food for poor families. Rep McGovern (D) of Massachusetts claimed that over 2 million people would be cut from the program which has grown as the numbers of unemployed rose during the Great Recession. The Farm Bill is typically funded for 5 years but this House has been unable to pass one over the last two years. The Senate has passed a companion bill which has a more modest $5 Billion decrease in food stamp funding. Both Bills had punitive measures imbedded in them. Senator Vitter of Louisiana, one of the poorer (per capita income slightly over $30,000) states in the country wants to deny food stamps to any convicted felon. What part of that "paying one's debt to society" does he not understand?

Some Congressmen, even those who were in line to receive farm crop subsidies themselves, (Rep. Fincher of Tennessee has received over $3 million in subsidies himself) even as he and others railed against monies for the poor. This Congressman was quoted recently saying that if people want to eat, then they should work, they should not expect handouts. Darkly warning against fraud, some members claimed people traded food stamps for tattoos. (This claim was absolutely disputed by the Agricultural Department.) Somehow they are overlooking the fact that the average food stamp allotment is approximately $5.00 per person per day. Since many people spend more than that for a latte on the way to work, that should give some context to this argument. During the recent Republican primaries, Newt Gingrich repeatedly claimed that President Obama was the food stamp President. This program is certainly better that the previous program which gave away surplus foods such as dried beans, powdered milk and cheese. Congress seems to absolve itself of any blame in this situation, just gets bogged down in posturing. Well, maybe if the Congress would pass a JOBS bill, then fewer people would need to apply for food stamps.

What I do not understand is how our country has become so mean-spirited. What is it about the people who were elected by the Tea Party that made them be so self-centered and lacking in charity towards one's neighbors? Why are they so threatened by the services that are among the best things that this country has to offer -- in my opinion. In my estimate, we have changed so much from the era of robber barons, with exploitation of workers, and poor houses which were so prevalent about a century ago. We have created a network of social services which serve as a safety net to keep families out of abject poverty. There are emergency shelters, food banks and services such as Medicaid and Social Security to aid those in need. We educate poor children through programs such as Head Start, provide food for the frail in Meals on Wheels programs and give health care through city clinics or Planned Parenthood. And soon we will implement the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare to many), bringing the United States closer to the majority of nations who provide health care believing that health care is a right, not a privilege. We have created a caring country that these social misfits now want to dismantle.

Perhaps certain social scientists will, in future generations, venture to study this subset first seen in the 2010 election as an aberration common only to the early 21st Century. They appear to be overwhelmingly white, mostly male and mostly not from the Blue states. (Other hangers-on such as Michelle Bachman and Lindsay Graham tried to rub the tea party lamps and find their genie, although Michelle has decided to read the tea leaves of her narrow win last year and retire.) Some of the TP members were defeated in the 2012 Presidential year election. One could hope that more will find defeat in 2014. Meanwhile some non Tea Partiers in the Republican Party are fearful that they will be defeated if they do not turn further to the right and follow these fringe members, so they are passing nothing of consequence. They are not doing the peoples work. In the Senate, Mitch McConnell has obstructed rather than governed and moved to create paralysis in courts and governmental appointments.

So how did my summer reverie disappear -- it didn't take much did it? Help me find a way to restore the society that cares about the least among us. Perhaps you have an idea about how we can bring back sanity and functionality to our government. If so, tell me here.

1 comment:

  1. It's encapsulated in that quote:
    "if people want to eat, then they should work, they should not expect handouts. "

    That is the end of their plans.

    If this were the opening arguments in favor of a CWA type program, I'd stand right alongside them.
    Everyone wishing a job should have SOME way to get one.

    The conservatives don't think about step 2.

    Giving the sage advice: "Get a Job" is the first and final step of the conservative plan for poverty.

    Since Rush O' Hannity tells their minions that the government never created a single job, only destroyed them (that's why our police, firefighters, and warriors are all private contractors, every single one of them and those contractors are paid with fees and reparations instead of taxes), then a CWA program strikes any one of them as folly.

    Given that they expect private businesses to absorb the unemployed hungry masses, I';d be curious to hear of their plan to find places for them all. The training necessary, the money businesses will raise to pay them, etc.

    Unluckily for me, and fortunate for their TV-viewing time, they don't invest any time thinking about the implementation of any such "solution".

    Do away with Food Stamps and Medicare and Wal-Mart wages will instantly be sufficient to cover food and medical bills. The mechanism behind this paradigm shift is unclear to me and I've yet to hear a conservative explain the math behind it.

    I have run some hypotheticals for my own amusement, and several turn out ugly.

    One that I suspect would work fine for conservatives: food riots and widespread burglary. The costs of jailing hungry people is justifiable in conservative eyes for now. When the crushing costs of incarceration make food stamps look like a bargain, they'll opt for forced labor camps to "pay" for the costs. This also will be far more expensive than a CWA plan, but won't conflict with their economic libertarian sensibilities. (I see food stamps as compatible with economic Libertarian philosophies of taxing as little as possible.)

    Finally, when this irony sinks into a conservative populace's consciousness, forced sterilization and perhaps widening the scope of capital crimes can reduce costs to levels deemed acceptable by tax hawks.

    Behold their utopia.


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