Advocates for farm subsidy reform have often wondered when the anti-government Tea Party movement would produce politicians willing to come out against what they consider to be one of the biggest government spending boondoggles around -- the farm subsidy program that hands out an average of $16 billion a year to farmers. Well, the waiting is over.
The Environmental Working Group's recently updated farm subsidy database has turned several farmer-politicians aligned with the Tea Party into avid proponents of agricultural subsidy reform. That is, after they were outed for taking significant sums of money from the same federal government they so often decry as socialist and addicted to lavish, unnecessary spending.
After press reports of Clint Didier's $273,000 in farm subsidy payments since 1995, the Washington state Republican Senate candidate -- who likes to call the government a "predator" -- offered up this defense to the Seattle Times:
I didn't set the rules of the game; I only played by the rules. And I want to change the rules. I'm willing to give up these farm subsidies. We need to get the government out of creating all these dependencies.In other words, I didn't want to take the predator's handouts -- the corrupt system made me do it! Didier's 1,000 acre farm grows wheat, corn and barley.
Then there's Tennessee Republican congressional candidate Stephen Fincher, who cashed $3.2 million worth of USDA checks since 1999, mostly for cotton farming, according to EWG's analysis of USDA data. Fincher, whose family farm spans 2,500 to 3,000 acres, also turned to the subsidy reform cause as part of his defense. "Do we need farm program reform? Absolutely," he said.
Tea Party darling Michele Bachmann, a current Republican congresswoman from Minnesota who has referred to government "handouts" as socialism and who famously urged her supporters to stop paying taxes if the health reform bill passed, pocketed $250,000 in socialist handouts for her family farm between 1995 and 2006, earning her the nickname "welfare queen." Bachmann, however, has yet to criticize the agricultural subsidy program, perhaps because Minnesota happens to be one of the top state recipients for farm payments.
While none of this means lavish subsidies are going to disappear any time soon, it highlights the fact that it's getting increasingly harder to defend a government program that rewards mostly large farms and mostly growers of just five crops, three of which constitute the pillars of processed food -- corn, soybeans and wheat. According to EWG, from 1995-2009 the largest and wealthiest 10% percent of farm payout recipients collected 74% of all the money.
Clearly, there's something's going on when Glenn Beck, who recently attacked farm subsidies, starts agreeing with environmentalists and Huffington Post bloggers.