‘Welfare Policy on the Backs of Farmers’

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Ah, the free market.Photo: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

The defeat of the farm bill in the House yesterday has prompted moaning from all sides about incompetence and dysfunction. Nancy Pelosi has taunted the GOP majority for “amateur hour,” and Republicans are blaming Democrats for failing to help them pass a bill that, as everybody says, is “traditionally bipartisan.” (“We can’t even do a fucking farm bill,” complained a Republican.)

The implied premise is that bipartisan means sensible, a farm bill representing some kind of baseline standard for the uncontroversial work of governance both parties ought to agree on. (Politico: "For decades, the farm bill has been a beacon of bipartisanship in an increasingly rough-and-tumble chamber.") In reality, the existence of a farm bill at all is a scandal. We don’t need a huge law specifying a complex network of subsidies, regulations, and production quotas for agriculture any more than we need a law planning out how many personal computers we make and at what cost. The farm bill is not a rational function of government.

What is a rational function of government, at least according to those of us not drawing our moral inspiration from Ayn Rand, is providing some minimal comfort to the least fortunate members of society. But that, not agri-socialism, is the central ideological division here.

Now, the Democrats are hardly pure on this matter. Some two dozen rural House Democrats supported the moral monstrosity, and another sixteen or so were prepared to do so before it became too cruel for them to abide. In any sensible prioritization of government functions, agri-socialism would be the first thing to go. Instead, House conservatives are acting upon the reverse assumption. Pay close attention to the formulation of Martin Stutzman, the Republican who has been leading the opposition to the House bill:

“While it might have been called a ‘farm bill,’ the American people understand that it was anything but,” said Representative Marlin Stutzman, Republican of Indiana, who was elected in 2010 with Tea Party support. “This trillion-dollar spending bill is too big and would have passed welfare policy on the backs of farmers.”

So, farm bill good, welfare bad. We should have a bill throwing money at a prosperous industry; we should not be helping very low income earners eat. Just as the tea-party movement reimagined Medicare recipients as the “makers” being robbed to subsidize the Obamacare “takers,” Stutzman sees heavily subsidized farm owners as subsidy-providers.