237937271_7b38ca3ad1_m.thumbnail.jpgToday the House passed the Farm Bill by a veto-proof margin. Tonight or tomorrow the Senate may do the same. That’s bad news.

The Farm Bill that passed the House does contain a badly needed $10.4 billion increase in food assistance and a few other good policies (including increased support for organic ag, produce farmers, African American farmers, and beginning farmers; disaster relief for salmon fishermen who lost their catch to irrigation pumps; elimination of disincentives to fruit and veggie production; and around a 10% cut – but not removal – in subsidies for corn-based ethanol). Tragically, these nuggets bob in a lagoon of waste and eco-devastation big enough to make a CAFO owner blush. The Farm Bill the House passed even slashes the miserly amount the US spends on international food aid, surely a thoughtful act when our neighbors across the Caribbean must resort to dirt sandwiches.

Why do they hate us?

Though I’d usually celebrate any Congressional defiance of President Bush the Torturer, the Farm Bill the Blue Dogs dragged into Congress smells like the Dogs spent the last months rolling in feedlots. And if we consider K Street as one form of feedlot, that’s exactly where they have been.

One more good reason to put the Blue Dogs out of the House. And the Senate.

Why do Blue Dogs hate America? Together with Dixie Rethug Senators and a few Dems beholden to ADM and Industrial Ag, the Blue Dogs have annealed the desperate poverty and very real starvation haunting urban and rural America into a weapon. With this weapon – the Farm Bill – a tiny fraction of Americans extort the rest of us, forcing each of us to cough up $140 per year to support the most comfortable farmers and megacorps. And – to ensure our children and their children their future will be even bleaker than our present – the Farm Bill subsidizes accelerated depletion of aquifers (hey, who says Atlanta needs water?), erosion of fertile topsoil, runoff-driven suffocation of Gulf Coast fisheries, and conversion of fragile prairies to greenhouse gases.

Why do the Blue Dogs hate our grandchildren?

One reason is that they’re paid to: agribusiness paid for the Blue Dogs’ (and the rest of TFB’s supporters’) votes with $100 million in lobbying and campaign contributions bribes. For you and me, that’s a pretty steep price for access. For Industrial Ag, that’s a bargain: the $100 million in tax-deductible bribes they plant in the Beltway grows into $43 billion dollars of crop subsidies (not to mention $23 billion in crop insurance – much of which is skimmed off by private firms.) But for Industrial Ag, the subsidies alone are a bargain: about $430 in subsidies for every dollar in lobbying and campaign contributions bribes. Sweet deal for the Blue Dogs – especially given that if you or I place that same dollar in a savings account, a year from now we get a nickel.

Oh – and the other reason Blue Dogs and the other Farm Bill extortionists support TFB? Ambition. The ambitious pols who would be Prez – or Veep – know the path to power runs through Iowa.

Iowa: the overwhelmingly white, heavily ag-dependent state where every four years a subset of residents join in the ritual of social intimidation and peer pressure known as the Iowa caucuses. The Farm Bureau (Big Ag’s wholly-owned lobby group) is well-represented there: Gulf Coast fisherman and the rest of us – not so much. The Iowa caucuses ensure that viable Prez candidates (and preening Congresscritters running for vanity and ego) bow down before ethanol subsidies and other insane strategies that decimate our land and Treasury, but sluice rivers of our taxes to the wealthiest farmers.

Even before the stinker of a Farm Bill that passed the House today, only 19 Congressional Districts – out of 435 – gobbled up half of the commodity (crop subsidy) payments from 2003-2005.

How much is half of the ’03-05 commodity crop payments? Oh – only $17.37 billion. That’s almost twice as much as the increase in food assistance in the Farm Bill that passed today.

Of course, with Blue Dogs and Rethugs and K Street in the game, the have-mores got the biggest slice of the crop subsidies:

The top 1% of beneficiaries received 17% of the crop subsidy benefits between 2003 and 2005. Their average benefit was $377,484 per person for the 3 program years or over $125,000 apiece annually. As a point of reference, the average adjusted gross income within the ZIP codes of those same top recipients was $45,853 in 2004 .

And hey – not just Iowa can play. Any wealthy "farmer" (including the politically powerful Florida sugar growers like the Fanjul family who profit from slave labor abroad and modern-day slavery here at home and the obscenely rich California cotton barons diverting subsidized Federal water into private fortunes), as well as megacorps like ADM, Cargill, and Monsanto who ante up for campaign contributions and lobbying bribery purchase the juice to wring more millions – or billions – out of the Farm Bill. But hey – if you’ve got so much juice President Clinton will interrupt an Oval Office romp with Monica on a Federal holiday to take your call, of course you’ve got the juice to sluice our tax dollars out of the Farm Bill – and muck up the Everglades. And, of course, the rest of America will be on the hook to clean up that sticky mess, too.

When Big Ag plays, they win big.

How big?

Well – at least $43 billion dollars big – in TFB commodity support. That’s the cost of crop subsidies in the Farm Bill the Blue Dogs dragged into the House today.

And $23 billion in crop insurance – much of which goes right back to insurance megacorps.

And another $3.8 billion in perpetual "disaster" payments: subsidies for deciding to farm land with too little rain to support farming – and expecting to make money at it. Year after year after year.

Hey – if I decide to open up a specialized psych practice on a beautiful, isolated stretch of the Pacific Coast, with too few people to support the practice, and expect to make money at it – where do I sign up for "disaster" payments?

Nowhere – unless, of course, I invest in lobbying and campaign contributions bribery and hold food aid to the poorest among us hostage until I get my cut.

As we discussed last fall, The Farm Bill is a collection of Titles that chains social and environmental benefits such as Title IV (where Food Stamps and WIC live) and Title II (the Conservation programs) together with giveaways such as Title X (Crop Insurance, with huge megacorp subsidies) and Big Ag’s favorite cash cow, Title I (the Commodity programs).

The Farm Bill even includes historical payments that go to those on land that used to grow crops, but is now covered with houses or stores. That’s like Medicare paying retired docs and shuttered hospitals in 2008 because once upon a time, years back, the docs and hospitals provided care for patients.

Which makes about as much sense as the lavish subsidies – to the wealthiest farmers, to those who own ground that was once farmed, to corn-based ethanol profiteers like ADM and Cargill, and to the insurance megacorps – the Blue Dogs successfully fought to keep in the Farm Bill the House passed tonight.

Guess the Blue Dogs want to keep those K Street treats coming.

Too bad they didn’t care as much about feeding the rest of us.

Bon appetit.