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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Republicans Am Stupid

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With the stench of imminent defeat growing stronger every day, the Republicans in Congress, who just the other day we were told by Congressional Minority Leader John Boehner had another one of their increasingly frequent "wake-up" calls voted last night to override the President's veto of the Farm Bill.
The vote was 316-108. The measure heads to the Senate, which is
poised to follow suit later this week.

Bush said the legislation is too generous to wealthy farmers at a time of high prices for crops. The legislation includes cash subsidies for farmers and food stamps for the poor.

The bill is just the kind of sloppy, bloated mess that has led the public to see the Republicans as generic, big spending, back-slapping pols. Last week, anticipating the idiocy to come National Review Online editorialized against it.

For starters, the bill extends the direct-payment program at a time when farm incomes have reached record highs. Direct payments are government payments intended to supplement farmers’ incomes. Farmers receive these payments whether they grow anything or not. Rep. Ron Kind, a Democrat from Wisconsin, was absolutely right when he said of this provision, “It’s not a safety net — it’s an entitlement program.”

Spurred by government-mandated ethanol consumption, net farm income is up 51 percent above its ten-year average, and farm families on average are making around $90,000 a year. In light of such prosperity, the Bush administration asked Congress to cap payments to farmers with adjusted gross incomes of over $200,000 a year. But Congress wouldn’t go any lower than $2.5 million a year (when exceptions for spouses and non-farm income are taken into account). As the leading sponsors of the farm bill admit, this cap will exclude practically no one.

In addition to providing income support to millionaires, the new farm bill establishes a $3.8 billion permanent disaster-relief fund. “Permanent disaster” is a good way to describe it. The sponsors of this provision argue that this fund will prove less costly over time than allocating disaster-relief funds on an ad hoc basis once every few years, as Congress has done in the past. But this argument relies on the mistaken assumption that Congress needs to provide “disaster relief” for farmers at all. Disaster relief is nothing but a more politically palatable term for additional subsidies. If farmers can not survive bouts of bad weather by drawing upon the many government programs already available to them, including the federally funded crop-insurance program, they should find another line of work.

Wait, there’s more. With the new farm bill, Congress has accomplished the astonishing feat of making the federal sugar program even worse. Americans already pay close to twice the global average cost for sugar thanks to federal import quotas. The new bill adds a sugar buyback program, under which the federal government must purchase any “excess” sugar from domestic producers at 23 cents per pound — and then immediately resell it to ethanol producers at 2 cents per pound, with the taxpayer stuck paying the 21-cent-per-pound difference.

But perhaps the most egregious item in the new farm bill relates to international food aid. A longstanding provision governing U.S. food aid to foreign countries requires that all the food America sends abroad to be purchased from American farmers. This means that, however much we allocate toward international food aid, a chunk of the money goes toward transporting food from the U.S. to its final destination. In light of an increasing food-scarcity problem in less-developed countries, the Bush administration asked Congress to help cut down on transportation costs by allowing the food-aid program to purchase 25 percent of the food it distributes overseas from local farmers in destination countries. This would have allowed the U.S. to provide more food for starving people for same amount of money. Bowing to the American farm lobby, Congress refused.

Even though $300 billion is a big burden on American taxpayers, it’s apparently not big enough to change the political calculus of farm-subsidy supporters in Congress, as this week’s votes indicate. At this rate, Americans will be saddled with costly and inefficient farm legislation for the foreseeable future, even though only a tiny percentage of Americans benefit from these programs. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, never has Congress taken so much from so many for the benefit of so few.

According to a recent Rasmussen poll:
The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 62% of voters would prefer fewer government services with lower taxes. Nearly a third (29%) disagrees and would rather have a bigger government with higher taxes. Ten percent (10%) are not sure.

Those numbers have changed little over the past month.

Republican voters overwhelmingly prefer fewer government services—83% of the GOP faithful hold that view while just 13% prefer more government involvement. Democratic voters are evenly divided on this question: 46% prefer more government services, while 43% prefer less government services.
At a time when the public is looking for some sign that Republicans have rejected business as usual, they continue to show that they haven't and, at this stage of the game won't. With disaster looming, the Republicans will deserve the thrashing they're certainly going to take in November. The Democrats are a very happy Party right about now. You can't get any luckier than to have really stupid competition. And the Republicans am really, really stupid.

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