Monday, August 06, 2007

Fortenberry Takes Flak, Smith Gets Smacked for Farm Bill Support

by Kyle Michaelis
I don't have the time or the expertise to delve into the finer points of the 2007 Farm Bill that recently passed in the House of Representatives with the support of Nebraska Congressmen Jeff Fortenberry and Adrian Smith. For that, I will direct readers to the Nebraska-based Center for Rural Affairs' blog.

For a fairly quick update of what unfolded, I'd recommend reading everything that's been written since the July 17th post, "This is Not Reform," in chronological order. From there, you should get a pretty good sense of what controversies arose and what contentious issues still remain unresolved as the legislation moves to the U.S. Senate for consideration.

The House version of the Farm Bill was approved unanimously in committee by both Democrats and Republicans. When the bill reached the floor, the leadership of the Republican minority opposed it in protest to a $4 billion dollar tax newly-imposed on American subsidiaries of international corporations that would fund the expansion of food stamps and other nutritional programs while keeping faith with Democratic promises to pay-as-you-go with all new spending in the federal budget.

Usually amongst the first to dutifully accept orders from their party's leadership, Fortenberry and Smith broke rank by voting FOR the Farm Bill - looking beyond concerns about the $4 billion tax and keeping their eyes on the riches awaiting their respective districts amidst the $286 billion of spending therein approved. Smith's eyes had to be seeing double the dollar signs as the Representative of Nebraska's Third Congressional District, which has seen more ag subsidies than any other in the country in recent years.

Oddly, it's nationally-syndicated columnist Robert Novak (who I'm now quoting for the second time in two days) who's put Smith's vote in the harshest light for so hypocritically betraying the "conservative" themes on which he just won election:
The long and twisted history of U.S. agricultural subsidies continues with a farm bill that improves nothing and perpetuates America's government-subsidized farm economy. But the political lesson of last week's vote in the House is that the farm lobby is so powerful, it can win a tax increase vote from four Democrats and 18 Republicans who had promised publicly never to support higher taxes while serving in the House of Representatives....

Among the most surprising "yes" votes was that of Rep. Adrian Smith (R-Neb.), a freshman who last year was carried through his primary and general election with more than $400,000 in contributions and nearly $100,000 in independent expenditures from the Club for Growth. As he represents most of rural Western Nebraska, Smith had always been expected to vote for a farm bill. He would have seemed like the last person in Congress to vote for a tax hike.

It's worth mentioning that Smith tried to use this vote as evidence of his independence from his benefactors in the Club for Growth - a point the Nebraska Democratic Party deserves credit for ably refuting.

What's silly is how the line in the sand drawn over this tax - demonstrating long overdue fiscal responsibility after years of shameless Republican reliance on defecit spending - worked to almost completely obscure the more relevant issue of Congress' refusal to impose caps on federal subsidies directed to corporate and large-scale ag producers. Calls for such limitations have come from Democrats and Republicans, but the vote in the House and the focus of its debate reveals that neither party is truly willing to risk offending so powerful a sector of the U.S. economy.

On this aspect of the Farm Bill vote, it's Fortenberry who found himself in the crosshairs of editorial cartoonist Neal Obermeyer.
As published in the Omaha Reader
Of course, Obermeyer's true target might just as well be most any member of the House - Democrat or Republican, voting FOR or AGAINST the bill - because of their near-universal complicity in avoiding the real questions at its heart.

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Blogger JimEenright said...

Only 2% of the "poor" in the USA said they were ever hungry. The second world envies the "poor" here. (84%% have air conditioning and 94% have color tv, etc.)The problem with the poor here is obesity. So why do we need a four billion tax hike for more food stamps?

The ag program is out of control because of the power of the ag indutrial complex and their army of lobbyists. Show me a country where everybody subsidizes everybody else and I will show you a poor country.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fortenberry is a good man, i would definitely back almost 100% of his views


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