Krugman and Common Ground on the Farm Bill


On Monday, Paul Krugman’s column was full of the usual tripe and hatred of those who are to the right of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). However, while much of the column deserves debunking, he also got some things (brace yourselves) right.

Here are the Bad & Ugly of the column:

First, Krugman says the GOP has a soul that is totally corrupt, and “a state of mind that takes positive glee in inflicting further suffering on the already miserable.” Apparently, separating the farm and food stamp bills, and cutting a mere 5% from the latter over five years ($20.5 billion “cut” from a budget expected to be $400 billion), is “inflicting further suffering” on poor Americans. This is laughable, considering a) how the food stamp program grew from $18 billion in 2000 to $78 billion in 2011, 57% of that growth is unrelated to the recent recession and pathetic recovery, and b) the fact that five years from now we will hopefully be well out of today’s anemic growth period, thus fewer people would qualify for food stamps.

Second, Krugman refutes the idea that social welfare programs encourage a lack of work and the like with this question: “Do you really believe that Americans are living lives of leisure on $134 a month, the average SNAP benefit?” Glenn Kessler at The Fact Checker took on a similar claim a while back, concluding “The SNAP program is intended as a supplement; it is not expected to be the only source of income for food.” Krugman conveniently missed this, as well as the actual name of SNAP – the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Food stamps are supposed to be in addition to existing income, not the primary source of income, for those who receive it.

Finally, Krugman says “some families have been forced to take food stamps by sharp cuts in unemployment benefits.” He cites no evidence of the latter, but I can only assume he’s talking about the $2.4 billion sequestration cut to federal unemployment benefits, which is a solid fraction of the $30 billion the Congressional Budget Office estimated such spending would cost federal taxpayers in 2013. However, Krugman’s point ignores how the CBO estimated state and federal unemployment benefits have averaged over $100 billion per year, according to the CNN article linked just above. A 2.4% cut in unemployment benefits is simply not “sharp” as compared to the overall unemployment budget. And if Krugman was addressing families who are facing “sharp cuts,” consider that one reason people often utilize government programs long-term is how the money is ostensibly free, especially compared to working for an income.

Now onto the Good:


To fully appreciate what just went down, listen to the rhetoric conservatives often use to justify eliminating safety-net programs. It goes something like this: “You’re personally free to help the poor. But the government has no right to take people’s money” — frequently, at this point, they add the words “at the point of a gun” — “and force them to give it to the poor.”

It is, however, apparently perfectly O.K. to take people’s money at the point of a gun and force them to give it to agribusinesses and the wealthy.

After seeing only 12 Republicans oppose the farm bill’s corporate welfare portion pass last week – as opposed to the 62 who opposed the food stamp/farm bill combination bill in June – Krugman may have a point.

Next, Krugman cites how one Member of Congress who opposes food stamps legislation has benefited from farm subsidies:

Now, some enemies of food stamps don’t quote libertarian philosophy; they quote the Bible instead. Representative Stephen Fincher of Tennessee, for example, cited the New Testament: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” Sure enough, it turns out that Mr. Fincher has personally received millions in farm subsidies.

Given this awesome double standard — I don’t think the word “hypocrisy” does it justice — it seems almost anti-climactic to talk about facts and figures. But I guess we must.

Rep. Fincher received $70,000 last year alone, when he ran for re-election, and has received $3 million over the last 14 years. He has been in Congress since 2011. He is not the only Member of Congress to benefit directly from these taxpayer dollars; according to the Environmental Working Group, 15 Members of Congress or their spouses saw farm subsidy benefits in 2012.

Tea Party Patriots reached out to Rep. Fincher’s office for comment, but as of press time his office did not respond.

Tea Party Patriots opposes the farm bill in its entirety due to many factors, including handouts to favored interests, lack of fiscal accountability for the food stamp program, and market distortions. Rather than give handouts, the federal government should enact legitimate tax reform and spending cuts that would help the poor and all Americans through economic growth. In lieu of not forcing such action, however, the House’s alleged fiscal conservatives should at least be consistent in opposing federal overreach in spending. Otherwise, Krugman’s accusation that conservatives prop up the rich while knocking down the poor will continue to hold sway among many Americans.