Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Cal. (left, with beard) takes a stand against the closing… (Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA )
It seems we may have been unfair to Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale) by suggesting he's a hypocrite for voting to cut back food stamps while he collects millions in government farm handouts.
The Central Valley Republican's vote Wednesday on the shutdown-ending House bill tells a different story: In fact, he's a man of principle.
LaMalfa has generally stood for smaller government, especially smaller poverty programs, which he believes should be handled by individuals and church groups.
The reason is that "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." So he stated back in June, during a debate on the farm bill. During the same debate he decried the "oppressive" federal government.
So when LaMalfa voted Wednesday against the bill--that is, to continue the government shutdown and threaten a government default--he was voting his conscience.
At least, we assume he was voting his conscience. We've asked his Washington office for a statement, but haven't heard back.
The government certainly shrank during the shutdown. It would have shrunk more if the shutdown continued, and a whole lot more if the government defaulted on its debt. LaMalfa joined 143 of his Republican colleagues in voting against an end to the shutdown, which passed the House anyway, 285-144.
Still, there are a few tiny quibbles to be raised about LaMalfa's stance. The 1st Congressional District of California, which he serves, is not free of the need for significant government services. It's the third biggest recipient of agriculture subsidies in the state, collecting $895 million in USDA handouts in 1995-2012. (LaMalfa and his family farm collected $5.1 million during that period.)
Of households in the district, 7.8% were in poverty in 2007-2012, according to an analysis by the Brookings Institution, an increase of more than one-third since 2000. In LaMalfa's Butte County, 11% of the residents receive food stamp benefits.
That's according to a survey by Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez), who matched members of Congress who received farm subsidies to their votes on food stamps; LaMalfa was among 14 who pocketed farm payouts and voted to trim food stamps. Of the 14, all Republicans, 10 voted this week to continue the shutdown.
One might argue that it shows real integrity to vote to close the government while you're waiting for farm subsidies to roll in, since on the surface it's a vote against one's personal interests.
Not quite. A congressman collecting millions in farm subsidies is, almost by definition, someone who can wait a bit for his money. A family in poverty needing food stamps, or any other relief, to make ends meet is by definition a family whose desperation is materially increased by even the smallest delay. So the shutdown was sorta OK for LaMalfa, and a real hardship for many of his constituents.
But that consideration is probably overlooked by LaMalfa, who remains our favorite California congressman. After all, his heart's in the right place. As he also said during that July debate on the farm bill, "I think we're all pretty loving people here, that want to help the poor." He just thinks it's better that the help doesn't come out of his own pocket. Help for the rich farmer, that's another thing entirely.
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