Let them eat cake

The food fight over the farm bill is not about the deficit or the cost of the program. It is entirely about the very idea of supplemental nutrition programs. The right-wing radicals never have had a stomach for feeding the poor — the working poor, here — and their complaints about the high cost of food assistance are just so much noise that distract us from the real intent of ripping apart the social safety net in America.

The Senate passed on a broad bipartisan basis a farm bill that cuts food stamps by $10 billion and direct payments to farmers by $10 billion. It was one of those necessary-evil tradeoffs — to take something away from agribusiness bidding up farmland you must also take something away from a poor person in Chicago or Storm Lake.

Yes, Storm Lake. Here, the unemployment rate is below 4% but the wages are so poor that food stamp participation has quadrupled since 2000. Thirteen years ago 768 people in Buena Vista County took food stamps, according to USDA’s Economic Research Service. Two years ago, 2,528 people, or 13% of our reported population, received food stamps. The rate doubled between 2007 and 2011. This number is not about immigrants. It is about poverty. Pocahontas County, with so few people of color and an abundance of elderly, has a higher rate of food stamp participation than Buena Vista County does.

The old, the very young and the working poor are the primary recipients. They are targets of the right wing in the US House who simply believe in welfare for no one.

So much for Jesus Christ’s admonition to “Feed the hungry.”

The House contemplated a $20 billion cut in food stamps. Earlier, its most rabid members wanted a $40 billion cut. The House Ag Committee’s ranking member, Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., noted 80 Republicans voted against the farm bill. For them, he said, “$100 billion (in cuts) would not be enough.”

They want it dead.

We should consider who is receiving food stamps, with which you cannot buy beer and cigarettes:

Ninety-one percent of benefits go to households with gross income is at or below the federal poverty line of $19,530 per year for a family of three. The average food stamp allotment is $338 per month while the average recipient’s “countable resources” like bank accounts is about $331. The food stamp benefit amounts to about $1.50 per meal per person, according to Feeding America, a hunger-relief charity cited in The Daily Yonder rural affairs website.

This is hardly the first assault on feeding programs.

When sequestration was all the rage, it appeared that major meatpackers might have to shut down operations temporarily because of furloughs for USDA meat inspectors. Congress fixed that by ordering meat inspectors to work with cuts in school feeding programs to pay for it.

The House has no plan to pass a farm bill, from what we can tell. The Tea Party is in revolt. House Speaker John Boehner has no control over his caucus. It has been made abundantly clear by leading House radicals that the Senate farm bill — or the Senate immigration bill, for that matter — has no place in the lower chamber. That might not be all bad. It will expose hard hearts and confused minds to the voter, if he cares.

The eternal governor

Gov. Terry Branstad is gearing up to run for another term in Terrace Hill next year. The top Iowa Republican is assembling a campaign staff and raising money. If he runs he will win, and when he wins he will have the opportunity to set a US record for gubernatorial longevity at 24 years — and that’s with an eight-year break when Tom Vilsack served as governor.

Three Democrats — Jack Hatch of Des Moines, Tyler Olson of Cedar Rapids and Bob Krause of Fairfield — intend to run for governor. We’re not sure why. The only Democrat we can think of who can beat him is Vilsack, and he has a pretty nice job as US Secretary of Agriculture.

“It will be easier for the Cubs to win the World Series than for a Democrat to beat Branstad,” said former chief of staff Doug Gross, himself a former candidate for governor, in an interview with The Des Moines Register.

No one will raise more money. No one will campaign harder. No one will know more Iowans. It is as if Terry Branstad were born to be governor.

When you think about it, it is a pathetic statement on the state of the Iowa Democratic Party.

That said, it also appears that Sen. Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, was born to be the state’ top legislator as Senate Majority Leader. For the sake of balance, let’s hope he stays there.