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Why GOP Ag Committee Chair Frank Lucas Is Full Of It

July 12, 2013

A post yesterday touched on the Farm Bill and the travesty of what the Republican House has chosen to do; poking fun at Louie Gohmert aside, the topic needs further explanation…

Republicans just long for the good ol' daysSince the 1970’s, the US Farm Bill has combined the politically disparate interests of mostly-rural agriculture programs with mostly-urban nutrition programs (farm subsidies and food stamps.) This has been done to create broad-based, bi-partisan support from both rural and urban legislators. It worked. Until recently.

In recent years, the GOP has become hell-bent on slashing the SNAP (food stamp) program. (This, despite the fact that need for the program rose 70% in the wake of the 2007 recession (now nearly 1 in 6 Americans); despite the fact that it has been a key factor in keeping millions of working Americans, seniors and children  fed and lifted out of povertyand despite the fact that SNAP use is now relied upon more by rural than by urban Americans and usage is highest in red states.) In fact, they are so dying to stick it to the hungry poor, that the significant cuts to the SNAP program included in a Farm Bill brought to the House floor on June 20th weren’t deep enough to satisfy many in the GOP caucus, and for the first time in decades, a Farm Bill was voted down.

The tea party and far-right wave of 2010 that gave John Boehner the Speaker’s gavel didn’t give him a governable majority. Also: he kinda sucks at this leadership thing, vote counting, and ferrying important legislation through the House. So the clown circus stumbles along, with the result that the only way Boehner can get anything other than Obamacare repeal and post office naming to pass is by chopping it up into bite-sized chunks. We are going to see this in the immigration debate, and we saw it yesterday as the House passed a Farm Bill, minus any provision for nutrition programs.

But wait!, says Agriculture Committee Chair Rep. Frank Lucas (R – OK to starve the poor), liberals should be happy about this!

If you’re a true liberal and you want to protect the [food stamps] program from any reform whatsoever, I suppose you’d be smiling,” Lucas, the Republican chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, told HuffPost on Thursday morning ahead of the vote. […]

The way food stamps is structured, even if the authorization expires, it’s an appropriated program anyway. They can just keep it going,” Lucas said. “If you were, say, a very liberal member of Congress and you didn’t care anything about agricultural production and processing, you didn’t care about rural America, you didn’t care about infrastructure, you didn’t care about research, you didn’t care about any of this stuff, I suspect you’d probably be enthusiastic here. Because this way the farm bill issues will be addressed, your subject matter’s left out.” (HuffPo)

See? Nothing to worry about there! Lucas would have you believe that the same GOP caucus who rejected a previous version of the bill including significant cuts to SNAP because those cuts weren’t deep enough is just going to sit back and let the program continue on its merry way without any cuts whatsoever. (I also have a lovely bridge for sale, if you’re buying that one.)

Truth is, Republicans love the idea of the SNAP program as a stand-alone bill, all ready for the bashing of the poors and socialist moochers and the telling of stories of crab legs, rib-eyes and wine. (Cadillac-driving welfare queens, anyone?) As Food & Water Watch’s Patty Lovera points out, this split now makes the SNAP program “incredibly vulnerable to draconian cuts that have become a priority of many conservative members of Congress. Dealing with SNAP as a stand alone bill – or not passing a separate nutrition bill at all – creates opportunities for drastically cutting funding for the program or making other radical changes like turning it into a block grant program. ”

The bashing of the undeserving poor and the stripping of the social safety net is now possible because the House Ag Committee has untangled the SNAP program from agriculture programs, which essentially held them hostage to some sort of moderation in the past. Now wait, you say, aren’t they hurting their own constituents if SNAP usage is higher in rural areas and red states? That all depends on just who their constituents really are — the voters of their districts, or the leaders of Big-Ag who line their pockets?

Because there is nothing moderate about the bill they passed  yesterday. Environmental Working Group calls it the “most fiscally irresponsible farm legislation in history.”

After repeatedly voting to deny health insurance to kids, the Republicans overwhelmingly turned their backs on hungry kids and voted to increase unlimited insurance subsidies for the most profitable farmers…

This bill not only increases unlimited insurance subsidies, but also increases price guarantees for major crops and creates new subsidy programs for farm businesses. This bill locks in these new income subsidies for eternity under the guise of ‘reform.’

So the pork-laden gravy train keeps on chugging along for the rich. And what about the millions of Americans still unemployed or underemployed in the midst of this jobless recovery? (More than 9 out of 10 jobs lost during the downturn in rural areas still haven’t returned.)  Well, Majority Leader Eric Cantor says the GOP will “act with dispatch” to get a food stamp bill to the floor. The best hope now is that the bumbling clown circus still won’t be able to agree on just how draconian the cuts should be. Odds are actually pretty good on that front.

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