Why Not Drug Test U.S. Farmers Who Receive Federal Aid?

If not, then why impose drug tests on food stamp recipients?

H.L. Mencken observed "If a politician found he had cannibals among his constituents, he would promise them missionaries for dinner." Mencken's spirit, in the Valhalla of political commentators, must be grinning ear to ear.

America's farm districts are among the most reliably Republican in the country. Of the 10 counties receiving the most Federal farm aid, 9 voted Republican in the last election. And as a further demonstration of appreciation, the farm and agricultural lobbies invested $59 million in political donations during the 2012 election cycle -- mainly to the GOP.

Politicians reciprocate the generosity of America's farmers, by giving them other Americans' tax dollars -- a lot of our dollars, in fact -- with as few constraints as possible.

The Republicans' Farm Bill, for example, doesn't require drug testing as a condition for receiving any Federal farm aid, but does require it for receiving food stamps. In case you hadn't guessed, food stamp(1) recipients aren't major campaign donors.

The GOP presents itself as: The great bastion of support for unfettered free enterprise, the party of small government, patriotism and rugged individualism that believes we should fend for ourselves. Contrary to this rhetoric, the overwhelming majority of GOP Congressmen voted for massive Federal subsidies to cushion America's farmers from market and natural forces, but fought to prevent health benefits for real patriots and individualists -- 9/11 first responders.

Let's look at those GOP-supported farm subsidies (all amounts are for 10-year periods ): $40 billion to protect farmers against significant price changes; $93 billion to subsidize the Federal crop insurance program which protects farmers against crop failures or price declines; and $57 billion to help farmers protect against soil erosion and to pay farmers to leave certain lands fallow.

On the other hand, the Republican Party spent nine-years blocking about $4 billion in health assistance for ailing 9/11 first responders. Even on the final vote, most Republicans in Congress still refused to vote to support the first responders' health assistance bill. The first responders' crime -- they lived in a part of the country that doesn't vote Republican.

Returning to the proposed Farm Bill, the overwhelming majority of Republican Congressmen support spending about $190 billion over the next 10 years on approximately 2 million farmers (about $10,000/farmer per year). By contrast, the average food stamp recipient receives Federal assistance of $1,500/person per year. The average household on food stamps has a family income of about $9,000/year, while the average farm household has an income of about $80,000.

Food stamps help many families who've temporarily fallen on hard times, and about 60 percent of its recipients are in the program for only a year or less. Farmers, however, are multi-generation Federal subsidy junkies. Any request to give up their 'fix' is met with the classic addict's reaction -- anger and denial that there's any dependence problem whatsoever.

The Republicans support massive Federal programs that protect farmers from price fluctuations, and subsidize their insurance and maintenance of their land -- without any requirement for drug testing. But if you're a laid-off factory worker, needing food stamps to feed your family for a few months while you find another job -- you need to "pee in a cup" to satisfy a coven of Republican Congressmen.

Now for the really funny part: The GOP couldn't even pass the final version of its own Farm Bill legislation because too many Republican Congressmen felt it was still too generous to food stamp recipients.

Drug testing Federal aid recipients, in my view, is bad policy. Among many reasons: Its constitutional legality is dubious, we've no reason to believe Federal aid recipients are prone to drug problems, and it humiliates fellow citizens when they've fallen on hard times. However, if we're going to start drug testing as a condition for Federal aid, then all recipients should be tested, including Federally subsidized farmers (as well as banking and corporate Federal welfare recipients, a point I've made previously here).

More generally, the current Republican Party isn't the party of small government and free enterprise, at least not for its own supporters. It's the party of regional, crony capitalism politics at its hypocritical worst - where subsidies to GOP constituents are sacrosanct, and aid to other parties' constituents (no matter how deserving) are condemned as wasteful, and subject to demeaning requirements.

To paraphrase George Will, the GOP Congress' real mission is to loot the public treasury for its own constituents.

(1) The formal name is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, colloquially referred to as "food stamps."

Steven Strauss is an adjunct lecturer in public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Immediately prior to Harvard, he was founding Managing Director of the Center for Economic Transformation at the New York City Economic Development Corporation. Steven was one of the NYC leads for Applied Sciences NYC (Mayor Bloomberg's plan to build several new engineering and innovation centers in NYC), NYC BigApps and many other initiatives to foster job growth, innovation and entrepreneurship. In 2010, Steven was selected as a member of the Silicon Alley 100 in NYC. He has a Ph.D. in Management from Yale University, and over 20 years' private sector work experience. Geographically, Steven has worked in the U.S., Asia, Europe and the Middle East. You can follow him on Twitter at: @Steven_Strauss

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