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David Gaul
Shelby County Democratic Party Co-Chair

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David Gaul
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This is the time of year when farming here in Iowa kicks into high gear.  Tractors and various types of farm equipment are doing their annual makeover of Iowa's crop ground.  Farmers are rushing about, trying to beat the weather as they try to get their crops in before their somewhat nebulous but very definite deadlines.

Yours truly is a farmer.  My machinery isn't cutting edge in terms of technology.  In fact, its museum days are closer than its showroom days.  But with a bit of colorful language and money spent on spare parts, I usually manage to muddle through. 

What's this have to do with things political?  Well, from time to time, agriculture and politics overlap.  This is true of the recent farm bill.  A new farm bill was passed back in February, but it took a long time for that to happen.  Republicans wanted drastic cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known somewhat derisively as food stamps.  Last September, House Republicans passed a bill that would have cut $40 billion from the program.  The final bill, passed last September, cut $8 billion from the program.  Steve King, my congressman here in Iowa's 4th district, led the charge for making these cuts.  While disappointed more wasn't cut in the final bill, he still voted for the bill's passage.  Senator Grassley did not.

Another election now looms.   Here in Iowa we have an open Senate seat and two open House seats.  In regard to these races, Republicans seem to be getting the lion's share of the media coverage, largely because train wrecks and car crashes always attract a lot of attention.  The same can be said for Republican races across the river in Nebraska.

Immediately to the south of Shelby County lies Iowa's 3rd Congressional District.  Six Republicans there are vying for the title of "Most Crazy" and the unenviable task of running against Democrat Staci Appel in the fall.  Earlier this week, they had a debate sponsored by the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition.  This debate aired on KMA Radio out of Shenandoah.  Unfortunately, there is no podcast available for the debate, but a story regarding it can be found here.  I also heard some audio highlights of the debate when they aired as part of a KMA newscast.

The portion of the debate that got my attention was the candidates' comments regarding the new farm bill.  As you can read for yourself in the story, the candidates had mixed views on the bill.  They all said supportive things about farmers, but all of them were united in their opposition to the amount of money appropriated in the bill for SNAP. 

Too much!  Can't have that!  More money needs to be cut from food stamps!  In the audio clips I heard, their tone was harsh and condemning.  The subtext, barely hidden, was that poor people just don't deserve the help.  Republicans can't help themselves, and they can't hide their true feelings.  Those food stamp people are lazy--shiftless and up to no good! 

But you know what they didn't talk about?  Benefits to farmers.  The new farm bill does eliminate the free-money, direct payments that farmers have received for many years, but all of the traditional benefits to farmers haven't gone by the wayside.  Hidden benefits remain.  I'm referring to the Federal Crop Insurance Program. 

Being farmer, I can talk and write about this.  I'm a participant in the Federal Crop Insurance Program.  I've benefitted greatly from it.  I'm grateful that our Federal Government provides such a program, and I thank the taxpayers of this country, but let's not kid ourselves.  In an era where Republicans are hoarse from all the shouting they've done about socialism, the Federal Crop Insurance Program is about as socialistic as can be.

But Republicans never mention that.  Farmers who vote so often for Republicans like Steve King--the King of the Anti-Socialists--never bring it up, but they all participate in the program.

Time for some numbers.  This year, like every year that I've been a farmer, I signed up for federal crop insurance.  To participate in the federal farm program, one has to have federal crop insurance.  Virtually all farmers in Iowa participate.  A number of private insurance companies offer plans.  It's up to an individual farmer to choose one.  There isn't much difference from company to company.  Farmers can sign up for different levels of coverage from 75% to 85%. 

I always choose the highest level of coverage, 85%.  This year the premium for insuring one acre of corn at this level is $38.68.  Of that premium, the Federal Government pays $20.50 per acre.  I will pay the remaining $18.18 per acre.  The Federal Government pays 53% of the premium.  For soybeans the government also pays over 50% of the premium.  For my modest number of acres on my farm, the Federal Government is paying a total of $3442 toward my total premium.  If broken down over a 12-month period, that comes to $287 a month.

The average individual food stamp benefit in Iowa is $116 per month.  The average per-household food stamp benefit in Iowa is $246.  My crop insurance benefit beats them both.  And what do I have to do to qualify for my benefit?

Absolutely nothing.

Nobody examines my income level.  Nobody asks me to provide a complete demographic breakdown of my family.  Nobody wants to know if I have a criminal record.  (I don't)  Nobody wants me to urinate into cup to see if I'm a drug user.  (I'm not)  Nothing is asked of me at all, and I will qualify year after year.  Furthermore, every corn and soybean farmer in Iowa qualifies for these generous federal subsidies regardless of income.  The richest farmer in the state gets the same benefit per acre as the poorest farmer.  A farmer who raises 1000 acres of corn gets a subsidy of $20,500.  A farmer who raises 10,000 acres of corn gets $205,000.  And no questions asked.  In addition to the money, the farmer gets complete peace of mind when bad weather impacts his crop.  The insurance also pays out if prices should fall precipitously.  It's a no-lose proposition.  In short, a farmer always knows he'll be able to eat and pay his bills.

I doubt this is true for many of the SNAP beneficiaries around the country.  Farmers just have to worry whether or not it's going to rain next week on his corn crop.  A SNAP beneficiary has to worry about whether their kids will have any corn flakes to eat for breakfast.

But do Republicans make derisive comments about farmers?  Do they imply that we're all no-good layabouts on the federal dole? Do they hold up legislation, demanding that we give up these hidden subsidies so that they can balance the budget?  Obviously not.  If they did, they would have to admit that one of their key voting blocks in the State of Iowa are a bunch of socialists driving big tractors and new, shiny pickups.

It is absolutely repugnant that poor people who are without power are constantly made the scapegoats by Republicans for what they perceive as our fiscal problems.  It's a tale as old as the hills that Iowans farm.  Blame those who can't defend themselves.  Blame those who can't fight back.  Blame those who don't have an army of lobbyists to do their bidding.  Blame those who are too pre-occupied with day-to-day survival to get involved in the political machinations of government.

Remember who sponsored the debate to which I made reference to?  The Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition.  On their website they self-righteously proclaim, "We stand for integrity in government, high moral values, constitutional authority, and Christian principles." 

That's a joke--a sad, offensive joke.  It's enough to almost make a person physically ill.  In the Gospel of Matthew, there's the famous story of Jesus feeding the multitude with five loaves of bread and two fish.  He just did it.  He didn't chastise the multitude for not planning ahead and bringing their own food.  He didn't tell them to get off their butts and go earn some money with which to buy food.  He didn't drug test them to see if they had been smoking the local papyrus plant.  He just fed them, no questions asked.  That's a Christian principle, and it's one of many that Republicans simply do not possess.  They may claim otherwise, but their actions betray them time and time again.

Go Forth and

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