On Monday there was an expressed feeling of pleasure and pride in Washington as a result of negotiations that produced another bicameral agreement that does not bode well for millions of Americans. It is one more sign that Washington politics have devolved into Democrats fighting a losing battle to prevent Republicans from stealing from the poor to enrich corporations when the parties are proud of an agreement that hurts Americans less than Republicans intended. The announcement on Monday that House and Senate negotiators reached a bipartisan agreement on a massive farm bill may put an end to a more than two-year fight likely because this is an election year. However, just because House and Senate negotiators came to an agreement, it is questionable if the bill will garner enough Republican votes to pass in the House.
The new five-year farm bill is supposed to eliminate or consolidate dozens of agriculture subsidy programs, expand government-subsidized crop insurance, and cut $9 billion from the food stamp program over the next decade. The proposed agreement is slated to reduce spending by about $23 billion over 10 years; the House is expected to vote on it today. It is unclear when the Senate will take up the legislation and its passage is not guaranteed to be easy because many Senate Democrats are likely unhappy with the food stamp measure that cuts more than twice as much as the bipartisan agreement they reached last May.
However, while Senate Democrats are unhappy the food stamp cuts are twice as deep as their effort last year, they are not nearly as drastic as House teabaggers called for last year or will likely demand this year. Last June Republican hunger mongers defeated a farm bill supported by Speaker John Boehner because the $20 billion in food stamp cuts were not Draconian enough. The House eventually passed a separate bill that dealt with nutrition programs and cut $40 billion from SNAP that was a far cry from Paul Ryan’s Path to Prosperity that called for $133.5 billion in cuts that effectively ended nutrition assistance to 48 million Americans.
Still, the $9 billion in food stamp cuts will deal a blow to hungry Americans who just suffered an $11 billion hit over two years last November. News of the proposed cuts come at a time when more Americans are coming to the realization that their tenure in the middle class is over, and that they are now members of the low income demographic. A new Pew Research poll conducted last week tracked how many Americans consider themselves “middle class” versus some other class, and it reveals that Americans who identify with the middle class is at an all-time low dropping to 44% in the latest survey from 53% in 2008. At the same time, Americans who admit they belong to the low income demographic rose by 15% from 25% to 40% as of last week.
As Kevin Drum at Mother Jones pointed out, the numbers indicate that nearly a third of Americans who self-identified as middle class now self-identify as lower class that is deeply tied with culture, and not just income. The decline means that about one-in-six Americans now think of themselves as not just suffering an income drop, but suffering an income drop they now consider permanent. It is further proof that the income inequality Republicans defend like their lives depend on it is creating a nation of peasants to serve the rich.
What is telling about the poll’s results is that respondents self-identified as low-income as opposed to reporting by the Census Bureau; as a rule, people tend to “round up” to a higher income bracket. What the Census Bureau did report is that the median household income in the U.S. decreased by 8% since the Great Recession that in 2012 was at the same level it was in 1995; a setback of 17 years. The greatest income loss has been households in the middle of the income distribution that did not affect households at the top which is unsurprising and indicates what any American with a pulse already knew; the growing inequality in income distribution strongly favors the rich. For the newly identified “low income” group, the farm bill’s food stamp cuts are another Republican assault on Americans struggling to avoid going hungry while corporate agriculture reaps the bounty of Republican-forced taxpayer largesse in the form of subsidies.
Obviously farmers like the president of the American Soybean Association are pleased with the farm bill he claims “ensures the continued success of American agriculture, and encouraged both the House and the Senate to pass it quickly.” Allegedly, the agreement changes farm subsidies by eliminating so-called direct payments that cost taxpayers over $5 billion a year and paid farmers and landowners whether they grew crops or not. However, the $5 billion in savings was shifted to the crop insurance program where the federal government uses taxpayer dollars to cover losses from poor farming practices or declining revenue that a professor of farm economics criticized as “a classic bait-and-switch to protect farm subsidies.” Vincent H. Smith said “They’ve eliminated the politically toxic direct payments program and added the money to a program that will provide farmers with even larger subsidies.” The executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, Joel Berg, took umbrage with the farm bill and said, “They are gutting a program to provide food for hungry people to pay for corporate welfare. This vote is a tragic, heartless and economically counterproductive departure from America’s bipartisan history of fighting hunger, members of Congress who voted for this should be ashamed.” Not only are the members who voted for the agreement not ashamed, they are proud of their handiwork.
Republicans are wont to claim that free market capitalism is the be all, end all, economic model, and yet the farm bill continues subsidizing the agriculture industry to guarantee government-created profits for corporations. In a true free market system, whether a small family-owned outfit or large corporate operation, a farm’s success is dependent on the market prices based on supply and demand, not federal government welfare. Republicans will never pass up an opportunity to cut spending on a program like food stamps to enrich corporations and this horrific farm bill is a continuation of the practice.
Democrats may be proud of the farm bill because they negotiated steeper cuts to food stamps in exchange for the House work requirement and drug tests to qualify recipients for nutrition assistance. The Republican requirements are an affront to low-income Americans because they presume that all low-income Americans are on drugs, and that recipients are lazy. The work requirement is particularly offensive because most recipients already hold down low-paying jobs, or are children, disabled, or senior citizens struggling to survive on meager Social Security pensions.
This is the second bicameral, bipartisan agreement that put the well-being of the most vulnerable Americans at a greater disadvantage to protect the rich. The budget agreement passed in December threw unemployed Americans under the bus to protect the rich from tax reform to close unfair loopholes that only the richest 1% benefit from, and this farm bill takes food out of the mouths of hungry Americans to subsidize corporate farms and guarantee they make a profit. It is a sad state of affairs indeed that Democrats are proud they held Republicans to food stamp cuts that are only twice as large as they settled on last year, and Republicans are proud they took food away from an ever-increasing number of low-income Americans to give to corporate agriculture guarantees they will be profitable. Agreements that favor the rich and punish the poor are now the status quo in American politics and Congress likely wonders why 80% of Americans have no faith their representatives are working for the people; particularly Republicans.
Update: On Wednesday the House approved the farm bill and it moves on to the Senate.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.