Mike Thompson voted Yes on the Farm Bill. The bill, with the prettier title of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (H.R. 2419, or voting details), passed the House by a vote of 318 Yes, 106 No, with 10 Not Voting.
The Farm Bill is probably the biggest waste of taxpayer money outside of the Pentagon's budget. Even though the first California Congressional district is largely rural, very little of the Farm Bill money will go to our district. So why would Mike vote for it? To understand that, let's review how an opponent in the 2008 race for the seat might attack Mike for having voted against it.
The bill includes small spending increases for Food Stamps and a token healthy snacks program for schools. What heartless person could vote against healthy snacks for school children? Who has not seen the rapidly rising grocery prices that have cut deeply into working class budgets and that have greatly reduced what Food Stamps can actually buy? The budget for food banks and similar emergency distributors is increased from $140 million to $250 million per year as well.
It also ads some subsidies for fruit and vegetable growers. Are wine grapes a fruit? Why should California taxpayers give huge subsidies to giant corporate farms in the midwest that grow corn, soybeans, and wheat and not get subsidies for our giant corporate vegetable farms in California?
Many pieces were added to the bill to gain a liberal vote here, a conservative vote there. There is some money to help preserve endangered wildlife species. There is the usual money that is targeted to buy the vote of a single congressman buy subsidizing a business in his district.
Mike Thompson and other California congress people, led by that paragon of virtue Nancy Pelosi, added $170 million for the Pacific Coast salmon industry. Imagine the outrage of the local fishermen and their supporters if Mike had voted against that.
The great thing about complex bills is you can criticize someone for voting for them, and criticize someone for voting against them. What are the criticisms to be made of Mike (or any Representative) for voting for the bill?
The millions for salmon fisheries and food stamp recipients are dwarfed by the billions in subsidies for farmers. The farm subsidy program was created during the New Deal by President-for-Life Franklin D. Roosevelt with bipartisan support from Congress. At that time there were far more small family farms than today, although agriculture was already dominated by corporate farming. Food prices were low because little money was circulating in the economy, but instead of flooding the economy with credit (through the Federal Reserve system) to get things going again, the Democratic Party took the opportunity to do what they do best. They created a number of vast bureaucracies, then taxed some people, ran up the federal deficit, and used the money to by votes. You could buy votes cheap during the Great Depression.
When the Depression ended as a result of the outbreak of war in Europe, the subsidies did not end. Farmers made a lot of money during World War II, but after the war prices slumped as European production resumed. Every year the agricultural corporations did their magic with Congress even as family farms disappeared (or became so large, swallowing up unfortunate neighbors, as to be indistinguishable from from corporate farms).
The bill envisions spending $307 billion in spending over the course of 5 years.
You might expect a brave congress person to vote against the bill. But the way Congress is set up, Representatives can't just vote for what they think would be good public policy. Vote against the Farm Bill, and its key supporters could get revenge by voting against things that you want, maybe even things that are good public policy.
The key to this government by fear and loathing is the undemocratic nature of the U.S. Senate. Each state gets 2 votes. Which means sparsely populated rural states get far more votes in the Senate than they would if voting was proportional to population. Two votes for South Dakota, two votes for Wyoming. Any of a number of California cities have more citizens living in them than live in all of South Dakota and Wyoming combined. But California gets just two Senators.
So no matter how stupid subsidies for Ethanol factories are, no matter that farming corporations are fattening up while the rest of the nation is going through a lean period, expect the farm bill to pass every time, with only some details changed. The first priority of those who want to live in a democracy, and one with a minimal of corruption, would be to amend the U.S. Constitution so that the Senate represents all the people on a fair and proportional, one-citizen, one-vote basis.
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Mike Thompson is the current elected member of the United States House of Representatives for California's 1st Congressional District.