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Rep. George Miller's roster of farm-bill hypocrites

July 24, 2013|By Michael Hiltzik
  • Republican Rep. Doug LaMalfa, left, has received $1.7 million in farm subsidies, according to a list compiled by Democratic Rep. George Miller.
Republican Rep. Doug LaMalfa, left, has received $1.7 million in farm subsidies,… (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated…)

Congressman George Miller (D-Martinez), has called out his colleagues in the House of Representatives who voted two weeks ago to zero out funding for food stamps while collecting millions of dollars in farm subsidies for themselves with both hands. 

There are 14 of them, all Republicans, according to the report Miller's office issued this week. Titled "Pork Barrel Politics," it names names. This rogues' gallery of hypocrisy has a total net worth of up to $124.5 million (the exact figure isn't public, because members of Congress only have to declare their wealth in ranges). They've received a total of at least $7.2 million in government subsidies since 1995.

And they've voted to gut the food stamp program, which is formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. That amounts to taking the food out of the mouths of children of the unemployed and working poor, while lining their own suit coats with bacon.

I reported on this outbreak of pure cynicism last month, when the House Agriculture Committee voted to increase farm subsidies while cutting $20 billion out of SNAP over 10 years. The full House failed to pass that bill, evidently because it didn't cut food stamps enough, so the committee doubled down. Its subsequent version continued farm subsidies but eliminated food stamp funding entirely. That measure passed the House on July 11 on a vote of 216-208.

It's worth revisiting some of the amazingly cynical statements uttered by Miller's hall of shame. The star turn belongs to Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.). At the Ag committee's meeting on the farm bill on May 15, he quoted his grandfather, who had grown up "dirt poor," as telling him: "Son, be careful when you have the conversation about giving people the way out of poverty. Because no matter how much you give them, until they realize that they have to do it on their own, it's a very slippery slope." (Fincher also quoted the Bible.)

Fincher leads Miller's list with a subsidy take of $3.5 million. Obviously he took his granddaddy's words to heart, because he collected that money all on his own. By the way, 22% of Fincher's constituents are on food stamps.

But my favorite character remains California's own Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale). At the May 15 hearing, he embarked on a lengthy discourse about the Bible, the church, godliness, and Congress' responsibility for the poor.

But it's worth quoting at length. Short version: Congress doesn't owe the poor nothin'. "We should be doing this as individuals, helping the poor, helping these individuals. Or through the church if we can't do it ourselves. And a heck of a lot more accountability comes from individuals or the church doing it than the government, that signs off on helping people at 5 o'clock, because it comes from the heart, not from a badge or a mandate."

He continued: "I think we're all pretty loving people here, that want to help the poor," he said. "But government has not provided those solutions. It's failing. And to think that we can't retract just a little bit of the spending  [on food stamps] over something that's grown exponentially in the last three or four years to try to get this reform in place." He called the $20-billion cut a "modest" change. 

LaMalfa's take from farm subsidies, by Miller's reckoning: $1.7 million. The number of recipients of food stamps in Butte County, where LaMalfa resides, is 27,457. That's 11% of his neighbors who would go without, thanks to LaMalfa's vote to eliminate benefits. Hope he eats well at dinnertime.


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