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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

GOP Hypocrites Squander Taxpayer Billions on Big Ag Welfare

Donald Carr, a senior policy and communications advisor for the Environmental Working Group, has a post up at HuffPo that should cause considerable squirming among Republican critics of big government, a substantial number of whom have been funneling millions of taxpayer dollars into subsidies to agribusiness. Carr explains in “Will Farm Subsidies Be the Tea Partiers’ Achilles’ Heel?“:

A wide swath of leading conservative and libertarian organizations, pundits and thinkers are no fans of the farm subsidy system: The Wall Street Journal editorial page, National Review, the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, just for starters. Even Glenn Beck called for severely limiting farm subsidies just weeks ago on his Fox News program.
When conservative thought leaders decry the billions of federal dollars that ensure profits for the largest growers of corn, cotton, rice, wheat and soybeans as a glaring example of wasteful government spending — you might think politicians who call themselves conservative would hear the music.

If you think this means government-bashing Republican office-holders would be railing against the Big Ag give-aways, you would be wrong, very wrong. As Carr notes,

But right now, there seem to be plenty of Tea Party-favored candidates who willingly collect government assistance in the form of farm subsidies. In early April, the Washington Post reported that Stephen Fincher, a Tea Party Senate candidate from Tennessee, was facing criticism over his acceptance of farm subsidy payments, as is Indiana Senate candidate Marlin Stutzman. Michele Bachmann’s farm subsidies have opened her up to charges of hypocrisy for her limited government stands.
The situation is similar with members who flaunt their success at steering government money to their home states and districts. In March, at the height of the heath care debate, nine Republican senators sent President Obama a letter decrying his proposed cuts to lavish farm subsidy programs. The senators who signed the letter were Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), senior Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Pat Roberts (Kan.), Thad Cochran (Miss.), John Thune (S.D.), James Risch (Idaho), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Mike Crapo (Idaho), Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas) and David Vitter (La).

Of course the GOP politicians will be quick to describe the multi-billion dollar give-aways as much-needed help for family farmers, which is a shameless lie.

You call this a “safety net?” The data show that the vast majority of the subsidies defended by the nine senators go to the largest and wealthiest plantation-scale farm operations in the country. In 2009, the top 10 percent of the largest farm recipients in America collected 74 percent of all farm subsidies. At the same time, according to the USDA, 62 percent of farmers — nearly two thirds — received no payments whatsoever.
Keep in mind that the farm economy has been white hot compared to other economic sectors. USDA projects that farm income will rise by 12 percent in the next year, following a decade that produced the five highest years ever for farm income. But agriculture’s bipartisan appetite for taxpayer money is insatiable. …

Carr points out that some Democrats have joined in supporting the subsidies. But it’s not Democrats who are doing all of the self-righteous bellowing about the evils of unmerited government spending while doling out billions in corporate welfare to Big Agriculture, which returns the favor in campaign contributions. Carr has opened up a big can of GOP hypocrisy here, and Democratic candidates should not hesitate to make the most of it in their midterm campaigns.

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