Republicans vote to preserve ‘agricultural socialism’

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to the media about the "fiscal cliff" on Capitol Hill.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to the media about the "fiscal cliff" on Capitol Hill.
Yuri Gripas/Reuters

Middle-class tax cuts weren’t the only thing saved in the last-minute fiscal cliff deal passed by Congress in the first hours of 2013. Also included in the legislation was a partial extension of the farm bill, put in to keep the country from falling off the so-called “milk cliff,” which could have resulted in the rise of milk prices to $8 a gallon. Once again, American socialism is preserved with the help of Republican votes.

Lawrence O’Donnell, host of The Last Word, has been highlighting this hypocrisy for some time.

“The most pure form of socialism America has, agricultural socialism, a direct handout from the government, will continue,” O’Donnell said in a 2011 Rewrite segment. ”And it will continue with the support of Democrats and Republicans, including Republicans who have inveighed against farm socialism and who have fervently preached the ‘need to get back to a free market mind-set.’”

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As the 2008 farm bill expired in September, lawmakers needed either to extend or replace it to prevent milk policy from reverting to the Agricultural Act of 1949 at the first of the year. That law compels the federal government to buy milk at approximately double the market price to cover dairy producers’ costs. The fear behind the “milk cliff” is that producers, under the old law, would naturally opt to sell to the government first, creating shortages that would force milk prices to rise.

The compromise negotiated by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell gives Washington nine months to solve the problem in a more comprehensive way. In the meantime, $5 billion in direct subsidies will continue to be handed out to grain, cotton, and soybean growers. And the USDA’s Milk Income Loss Contract program–government compensation for dairy farmers if milk prices fall below a certain level–will be extended to prevent the consequences of the “milk cliff” described above.

“The Milk Income Loss Contract program has provided an important safety net for Wisconsin dairy farmers when milk prices drop drastically and feed costs rise,” Rep. Reid Ribble, a Republican and member of the House Agriculture Committee said Wednesday. “Without further legislative action, the MILC program would have expired and dairy price supports would have dramatically risen, saddling our dairy market with major uncertainty and causing consumer prices to skyrocket.”

Ribble was one of the 85 House Republicans who voted in favor of the farm bill extension as a part of the larger cliff deal. In the Senate, where the deal originated, 40 Republicans voted ‘yes’ and only five voted ‘no.’ That’s 125 Republican politicians who, in effect, voted for the agricultural safety net, or, as Lawrence O’Donnell calls it, “agricultural socialism.”

“We live in the only mature country in the world where ‘socialist’ is considered so dirty a word that no one dare admit to being one,” O’Donnell said in an August 2011 Rewrite. ”Regular viewers of this program know that the reason American agricultural socialism will continue is, of course, because it is simply yet another example of why Newsweek was right when it said, ‘We are all socialists now.”