Culture Wars/Current Controversies

The Farm Bill & ‘Libertarian Populism’: Can the GOP be pro-worker and anti-government?

No, they can’t. But we can. It looks like some folks at The American Conservative have been reading AttacktheSystem.Com.

By W. James Antle III

One step forward, two steps back. The Republican Party is like an alcoholic in recovery, with periods of sobriety punctuated by long, destructive benders as it once again falls off the wagon.

In June, a critical mass of House conservatives helped vote down a nearly $1 trillion farm bill that merged all the protectionism and cronyism that dominates modern agriculture policy with the worst excesses of the food stamp program.

Republican leaders were reportedly very unhappy, but the sweetheart deals for the sugar industry and federal crop insurance program are two corporate welfare programs that are totally counterproductive for the taxpayer. Moreover, while it may make political sense to link food stamps and farm subsidies, the economic justification is less obvious.

Defeating the bloated farm bill gave Republicans an opportunity to separate these spending items so they could then trim and reform them both. Without nutrition programs for the poor making up 80 percent of the price tag, welfare for Archer Daniels Midland would receive more scrutiny.

So naturally, Republicans followed a moment of clarity by taking a nasty spill off the wagon again.

Last week, the House passed a farm bill containing all the agribusiness largesse of the one it voted down in June. In fact, the crop insurance program and the sugar subsidies were made permanent. But there was no money for food stamps, combining a fiscal disaster with a political one.

Republicans voted for this monstrosity by a margin of 216 to 12. To be sure, some felt pressure from the leadership to vote for the bill since Eric Cantor and company had magnanimously heeded their request to separate out the food stamp spending. And absent some congressional action, the country would have reverted back to the price controls and central planning of the Truman-era Agriculture Act of 1949.

But the takeaway is that the Republicans once again favor welfare for the rich and politically connected while opposing it for the poor and others unrepresented by K Street lobbyists. Needless to say, it’s unclear that naked redistribution to benefit GOP clients is preferable to such redistribution on behalf of Democratic constituencies.


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