While farm leaders in Minnesota's heavily agricultural First Congressional District push for passage of a new Farm Bill, Allen Quist is attacking the legislation as the "Food Stamps and Gold Bullion Bill."
Quist's Food Stamp and Gold Bullion Bill
Quist renamed the bill during an August 23, 2012 interview on the Late Debate with Jack and Ben at the Minnesota State Fair. The entire interview can be heard here.
The clip repeats Quist's talking point that the Farm Bill isn't a farm bill, but a food stamps bill, with Quist making the crack about gold bullion at the very end of the discussion of the Farm Bill. While discussing the pending Farm Bill--and the current policy in many states of dropping an assets test--Quist mentions that people who get food stamps could have gold in their basement or their boats. The new name reflects that discussion.
Quist claims "for the record" that he respects the dignity of people who receive food assistance and believes that it should continue if reformed, but in his off-the-cuff remarks at a Brown County Republican fundraiser early in August, Quist dusted off an old stereotype. The New Ulm Journal's Josh Moniz reported in GOP hosts candidates at Brown County fundraiser:
Quist also expressed serious criticisms of the federal Farm Bill that was being debated in the U.S. Congress. He said he fundamentally opposed the bill, calling it a food stamp bill with a farm bill rider. He claimed that the food stamp system was fundamentally broken, leaving states with the incentive to offer food stamps to more and more people.
"You can have people with Rolls-Royces getting food stamps," said Quist, "If we don't fundamentally change how we do food stamps, we could lose our country. The situation is a microcosm of the problems with our deficit," said Quist.
Quist said he did believe his position could be a difficult sell at his Farmfest debate today. However, he said he plans to repeat the same belief at the debate.
He did not include the Rolls Royce crack at Farmfest. Bluestem looked at the persistance of the Welfare Cadillac meme, and its revival in an earlier post, who those who are interested in learning more. It's not a narrative of respect.
But there are new problems in the Gold Bullion Bill clip. Quist claims:
If you want to know how bad this is, the editorial board of the Minneapolis Star Tribune editorialized against it as too much spending, and so I think that should be a pretty good sign that it's a pretty awful bill. . . .
There are a lot of interesting things about the bill. The first off, it's called "the Farm Bill" --hey, it's eighty percent food stamps.
Here's an annotated clip of the Farm Bill section of Friday's Late Debate Quist interview at the Minnesota State Fair:
What the editorial board of the Star Tribune really said
The Star Tribune had endorsed Quist in the primary. What did the editorial board of the Star Tribune say about the Farm Bill? What did the board find objectionable, and what did it like? Two editorials about the Farm Bill have appeared in the paper this summer.
The objections in the first, written before the House Ag Committee marked up and approved its version, Farm bill bulges in wrong places, weren't a blanket objection to "too much spending" but where that spending was directed--and where it wasn't:
. . .The bill eliminates the outrageous direct payment subsidies given to farmers whether they need them or not, but it directs too much money to crop insurance programs that mostly benefit large operations.
In other words, the economically fat will grow fatter.
. . .The Senate bill cut $4.5 billion from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as the food stamp program. That's not nearly as severe as the up to $15 billion in cuts from the program being touted by House Republicans. The bulk of farm bill funds -- nearly $80 billion annually -- are spent on SNAP.
. . .GOP leaders say they want to crack down on fraud and other presumed waste in SNAP. While that's a worthy cause, this has the sound of political rhetoric at the expense of low-income Americans. Instead of draconian cuts to SNAP, why not refuse to bloat the crop insurance program? Instead of sending more dollars to wealthy farmers, why not support antihunger programs?
Quist misleads by not sharing what the Star Tribune's objections to the bill at that point was. It's not the food stamp part that the editors oppose; it's the farm part that Quist doesn't mention at all in the interview.
The second editorial, House Republicans stonewall farm bill, published on August 7, doesn't support Quist's claim either. The editors write:
Month after month, House Republicans promised to save taxpayers millions by cutting wasteful subsidies paid to farmers -- whether or not they needed the money or even planted a crop. Instead of living up to their word, they're taking a five-week recess without considering the farm bill adopted by the House Agriculture Committee in mid-July. . . .
. . . Instead, the House passed a bloated, $383 million, standalone stopgap disaster bill to assist only some livestock producers affected by the drought, despite outcry from rural lawmakers who argued that a farm bill would better aid farmers and ranchers overall. To fund the bill, the lawmakers took a huge chunk from conservation efforts. . . .
. . .It's clear that House Republicans are using the drought as a wedge to dodge the farm bill. The stopgap measure merely gives these vacationing lawmakers a rhetorical tool to pay lip service to their constituents about assisting farmers. . . .
. . . This is not to say that the proposed farm bills don't need work. The Senate's version throws too much money at crop insurance. The House committee's version cuts too much from food and nutrition programs for low-income Americans. Both bills are heavy-handed about conservation. But it's our hope that the legislation would be made better in bipartisan negotiations between the House and Senate.
The fault for the farm bill mess to date lies squarely on the shoulders of House Republicans, who are so badly divided that they've stonewalled legislation America needs. . . .
Fortunately, some Senate and House lawmakers are working mightily to make sure the farm bill doesn't die. That's a good sign, but public pressure also will be needed to force the House's hand.
That reads mighty like the editorial board wants the House to pass the Farm Bill, just as the Senate has, then have conferees from both chambers to fix it. And while Quist focuses in on food support, that spending isn't the Star Tribune's problem.
Walz, who sits on the House Ag Committee, should be able to blast Quist for his glib comment about the Strib's positions.
Testing Quist's assertions about asset tests
Nor is Quist honest about the status of "categorical eligiblity" in the House version of the Farm Bill. Current law allows flexibility on the asset test for families on food support, but the final House version eliminates the problem Quist spend most of the interview venting about.
In July, Minnpost's Devin Henry reported in House debates deep cuts to food stamps in farm bill:
. . .The bill, co-authored by Minnesota Democrat Rep. Collin Peterson and eventually approved by the House Agriculture Committee, cuts $16.5 billion from the federal food stamps program over the next 10 years, though Minnesota officials can’t yet say what effect such a cut would have on the state’s 500,000 food stamp recipients.
. . .The brunt of the House bill’s savings come from ending a program called “categorical eligibility,” which allows states to deem individuals who qualify for state welfare programs also eligible for food stamps. Forty states use the option, and in some cases, including Minnesota’s, categorical eligibility increases the income level at which individuals are able to receive food stamps.In 2010, the Minnesota Legislature expanded the state's food stamp eligibility limits, opening the program up to anyone making less than 165 percent of the federal poverty level (or $38,032.50 for a family of four) and removing a required review of an individual’s assets (such as a savings account). The House’s bill would revert that standard to 130 percent of the poverty level and reinstate the asset test.
Quist doesn't mention that part in the radio interview. He kvetches about the growth of food support, and attributes it state officials across the country wanting to bring in more federal dollars. Henry suggests a different reason:
Food stamp usage has grown dramatically since the recession began in 2008: more than 45 million people receive food stamps in 2011, up 70 percent from 2007, and spending on the program ($72 billion in 2011) more than doubled over that time, according to the Congressional Budget Office. During that same time, the number of Minnesotans on food stamps nearly doubled: from 289,000 in December 2007 to nearly 540,000 this April.
[Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner Lucinda] Jesson said part of that is due to the eligibility changes from the Legislature; but more broadly, “part of the reason we had this big increase was because people were hurting” due to the recession, which CBO identifies as a major driver of food stamp increases.
Quist brags about reading bills while he served in the Minnesota House. Perhaps he might try reading the bill (posted on Walz's congressional website) as well as reviewing those editorials. Neither is what he claimed on the radio.
Photo: Walz, Parry and Quist at Farmfest. Bluestem urges interested readers to listen to the entire interview at the Late Debate.
Related posts: Walz op-ed on Farm Bill: Not just for farmers