Before Congress broke for its August recess, House Republicans were still refusing to work on a bipartisan farm bill, insisting on punitive efforts that made it vastly more difficult for struggling Americans to eat. A month later, the legislation is still pending.
With this in mind, the New York Times reports today from Dyerburg, Tenn., where reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg talked to some low-income locals in dire straits. A struggling mechanic hunts doves and squirrels to help feed his family, and limits himself to one meal a day. A woman who left her job skinning hogs at a slaughterhouse when she became ill with cancer also said she only eats once a day.
And then there’s their congressman, Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.), who’s eager to make their lives much more difficult.
“The role of citizens, of Christianity, of humanity, is to take care of each other, not for Washington to steal from those in the country and give to others in the country,” Mr. Fincher, whose office did not respond to interview requests, said after his vote in May. In response to a Democrat who invoked the Bible during the food stamp debate in Congress, Mr. Fincher cited his own biblical phrase. “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat,” he said.
Let’s unpack this a bit, because I think it’s important. First, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” referred to ancient Christians who had stopped working in anticipation of Jesus’ Second Coming, not lazy people.
Second, Fincher’s constituents who are struggling to get by aren’t “unwilling to work”; many of them do work. They nevertheless need to rely on a public safety net to continue to eat their once-a-day meal.
And third, Fincher collected nearly $3.5 million in taxpayer-financed farm subsidies from 1999 to 2012, including roughly $70,000 just last year in the form of direct payments from Washington, paid for by you and me.
So, the guy who’s trying to slash assistance for struggling families, arguing that it’s necessary to cut spending and let the poor fend for themselves, is also the beneficiary of generous agricultural subsidies? This Tea Party Republican wants the Department of Agriculture to give him and wealthy farm owners more money, while forcing poor families to suffer because they’re poor?
Let’s not overlook this tidbit, either:
But the arguments of Mr. Rector, the Heritage Foundation scholar, are gaining traction with conservatives on Capitol Hill. “I think food stamps have in the Republican mind become the symbol of an out-of-control, means-tested welfare state,” Mr. Rector said.
Here in Tennessee, Mr. Fincher embraces that view. “We have to remember there is not a big printing press in Washington that continually prints money over and over,” he said in May.
Well, technically there is a big printing press in Washington that continually prints money over and over. It’s called the Mint. If he takes the 14th Street Bridge, Fincher passes it every day on his way to work.