Saturday, July 13, 2013

Great: the House GOP Is Now Sadistic As Well As Stupid

This is one of those moments where you wanna break out a camera and document the atrocity for the sake of preserving history.

The House Republicans just two days ago passed a version of the 5-year farm bill (it's consistent and important enough to have its own Wiki page) that doled out the billions of dollars as expected to the agribusiness industry... and didn't show one red cent for food stamps to poor families.

In our political system, a payout system of subsidies to farmers (in truth, to massive corporations) wouldn't survive on its own as its supporters would be few (mostly rural, mostly corporate forces in agribusiness) because those subsidies distort the market.  In our political system where any system of welfare to the poor (such as a food stamps program) is viewed by conservatives as Dreaded Socialism, food stamps wouldn't survive on its own either.  So for the sake of political comity of getting things done, subsidies and food stamps tended to get bound together into an omnibus farm bill in order to secure enough support from conservatives and liberals.

Problem is, our current political system is not a sane political system.  The Far Right are in control of the House, and the Far Right are so opposed to any financial aid to the poor that they couldn't even pass a farm bill with food stamps in it back in June, making the House look like it's being run by idiots.  It threatened to create a situation where milk prices would skyrocket, for one thing.  And it just looked bad: the Senate was able to pass their version of the farm bill with some bipartisan effort.

So, here we are in July one month later, the House still needing to pass any farm bill at all... and the House GOP decided to vote for a version that simply didn't fund any food stamps at all.  At least the June version was massive cuts to funding: this one full-out killed it.

Now the deal with legislation is that it has to pass both houses of Congress, which means the House of Representatives has to match the Senate: there's usually a committee process that hammers out a compromise version that both sides re-vote on for final signature.  Given the disparity of versions, the Senate has a say on the farm bill and there is absolute certainty the Democrat-led Senate will refuse to accept this from the House.  So there's little threat of food stamps being completely eliminated here.  The outrage by the public would be huge if the Senate caved on this: we would finally get some rioting in the streets to match up with Egypt and Turkey.

But what does it say to the public already about the House Republicans, that they would intentionally vote to starve out poor families like this?  And this IS about poor families across the whole nation.  The Far Right already has this disdain against the growing number of people on food stamps, ignoring the fact that we're in a goddamn recession so of course we've got more people in dire need to feed their kids.  But now this disdain is public and fully on-record: it's not just the punditry foaming at the mouth on the Sunday talk shows, the elected Republicans are voting into law bills that are against helping out the poor (and not just the poor minorities: enrollment for food stamps is 36 percent White families, compare 22 percent Black and 10 percent Latino (where the remaining percentages go, most likely into other ethnicities like Asian, Native American and Pacific Islander).

While the "liberal" punditry like Jonathan Chait is going ballistic about it:

...There’s some policy rationale for this. Some of the farm subsidies drive up the price of food, making it harder for poor people to buy the food and thus making it more necessary to subsidize them. But the main rationale for joining food stamps is political. It gets urban liberals to vote for farm subsidies that hurt their constituents, and it gets rural conservatives to tolerate food stamps that they’d otherwise oppose. And since advocates of both farm subsidies and food stamps fear losing their program more than anything else, they strongly endorse keeping them together.
The coalition between the two has come undone in recent weeks. Why? Because under President Obama, conservatives have gone from not caring much about food stamps to detesting food stamps as the emblem of Obama’s Chicago-style urban socialist welfare dependency administration. Food stamp spending has increased, not because Obama is handing them out like candy but because the number of poor, hungry people has dramatically increased since the Great Recession...
...Now, some House Republicans would like to spend less on farm subsidies, but they’re willing to maintain the status quo. They’re not willing to maintain the status quo on food stamps. Indeed, the incredible position of many conservatives is that the government should be handing out money to people because they run a farm, but should not hand out money to people who happen to be poor...
It’s no longer novel that conservative Republicans have positioned themselves to Obama’s left on domestic spending that benefits their own constituencies. We have seen three years of Republicans attacking Obama for robbing Grandma’s Medicare. But at least Medicare is a justifiable program. The existence of farm subsidies is insane, and the fact that a party that hates government so much it engages in a continuous guerrilla war of shutdowns, manufactured currency crises, and outright sabotage can’t eliminate it may be the most telling indicator of the GOP’s venality. They only hate necessary government spending. Totally unjustifiable spending is fine with them.
There's the established "conservative" punditry like Ross Douthat wondering just what the hell is going on:
...But without a vision of the common good, a party is basically just a faction, seeking only the interests of its constituents, with no sense of its responsibilities to the country as a whole. And the Obama-era Republican Party’s worst tendency has been toward just this sort of factionalism: Not an ideological extremism, exactly, but rather a vision of government that you might call “small government for thee, but not for me,” in which conservatism is just constituent services for the most reliable Republican groups and voters.
This is what produced the party’s unfortunate Mediscare tactics during the 2009 health care debate, and it’s what produced yesterday’s egregious farm bill vote. It should go without saying that America’s agriculture policy has always been a terrible, stupid, counterproductive exercise in self-dealing cronyism. But when House Republicans severed the traditional connection, arbitrary but politically effective, between farm subsidies and food stamps, it briefly seemed like they were looking for an opportunity to put libertarian populist principle into practice, by separating both outlays in order to trim or reform both separately. But no — instead they were just making it easier for the party’s congressmen to vote for a bloated, awful big government program that benefits mostly-Republican states and interest groups, knowing that they weren’t also voting for something that pays out to the (mostly-Democratic) poor as well.
This is egregious whatever you think of the food stamp program, and it’s indicative of why the endless, often-esoteric debates about the Republican future actually matter to our politics. Practically any conception of the common good, libertarian or communitarian or anywhere in between, would produce better policy than a factionally-driven approach of further subsidizing the rich while cutting programs for the poor. The compassionate-conservative G.O.P. of George W. Bush combined various forms of corporate welfare with expanded spending on social programs, which was obviously deeply problematic in various ways … but not as absurd and self-dealing as only doing welfare for the rich...
Reasonable people can disagree, in other words, about what kind of conservatism would best serve the common good. But everyone should agree that any alternative would be preferable to a Republican Party that doesn’t seem to think about the common good at all.

To me, this is just one more bit of evidence of the GOP House's utter incompetence: that they couldn't even pass a no-brainer bill like a farm bill without shooting themselves in the collective foot.  Their stance against food stamps may play well on the wingnut blogs but it's not going to play well over the kitchen tables at a lot of voters' homes.

Consider Machiavelli's question about whether it is better to be loved or feared... the real trick was to avoid being hated, and a political party or elected official intentionally going out of his/her way to inflict pain on a lot of people - on a lot of families - all at once is a very good way to become hated.

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