In fact, crop-insurance subsidies are tied to crop prices, so they rise when prices rise. Crop prices, and hence farm incomes, reached record highs in 2006 and remain historically high today. Thus, the crop-insurance program is designed to give wealthy farmers more taxpayer money when they are already doing exceptionally well.
Crop insurance is even worse than food stamps at promoting dependency. Most food-stamp recipients receive only a couple of hundred dollars a month, a part of their income. Companies that sell crop insurance are 100 percent dependent on government payments for that business, and farmers are 70 percent dependent for their insurance — a rich subsidy that should strip away the idea of the farmer as a bold entrepreneur, while the welfare recipient is a burden on the public purse: The taxpayer spends more on the former than the latter. That’s why the crop-insurance lobbyists are frantically working Capitol Hill to keep feeding at the taxpayers’ trough. Crop insurance is perhaps the best example of a loosely structured government program tempting people who don’t need help to live at someone else’s expense. But instead, Heritage and its allies in this fight have chosen to focus on food stamps.
It is true that food stamps as a whole cost eight times as much as crop insurance, although that difference will decrease substantially once supplemental benefits approved in 2009 expire this fall and fewer people become eligible as the economy recovers. But the reform Heritage proposes to SNAP would save about $4 billion annually, less than half the amount taxpayers could save by eliminating the crop-insurance boondoggle. Again, what gives?
The focus on food stamps shows a total tin ear to American politics. The Republican candidate for president just lost a race most conservatives thought he would win largely because he was perceived as not caring about average Americans. The Republican National Committee’s report analyzing the reasons for the defeat found that the primary problem Republicans face is a perception that they don’t care about people. Polls consistently show that large numbers of Americans believe Republicans are the party of the rich. And here conservatives who argue that they are taking the Republican party back from an unconservative establishment make taking food away from needy people at a time of a tepid job market a top priority. The difference between the “GOP establishment” and “conservatives” is that they will trim your Medicare while we will also cut back on your dinner? Huh?
In politics, like comedy, timing is everything. The time is right for conservatives to argue that the rich should not live at taxpayers’ expense when others can’t find work. If they did this, they would begin to show ordinary voters that we are not a movement and a party that favors the rich, thus starting to eliminate the notion that we care more about wealthy people and their money than about average families. Instead, we get the fight over food stamps.
Robert Kennedy was famous for saying, “Some people ask why; I ask why not.” I’m a simple man, so I’ll just ask a simple question. Why, conservatives? Why?
— Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.