A Sad Blow for Conservative Principles

Tea Party Leader Dwight D. Eisenhower

“Hey guys remember me? … no? … oh all right then… do you have any snacks?”

If members of the Tea Party care about economic conservatism, they sure have a funny way of showing it.

On Thursday, The House said no to a farm bill in a 195-234 vote.

From The New York Times (June 20, 2013):

“The House bill would have cut projected spending in farm and nutrition programs by nearly $40 billion over the next 10 years. Just over half, $20.5 billion, would have come from cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps. The House bill, like the Senate’s version, would have eliminated $5 billion a year in direct payments to farmers, which are made annually whether or not they grow crops.

Billions of dollars saved by eliminating the payments would be directed into a $9 billion crop insurance program. New subsidies would be created for peanut, cotton and rice farmers. Lawmakers left intact the sugar program, keeping price supports and restrictions on imports.”

Despite its “farm” namesake, most resistance to the bill came from both Democrats and Republicans regarding a proposed plan to cut 20 billion dollars in food stamps. Democrats argued that the cuts were excessive, while the right wing of the GOP claimed the reduction in entitlements didn’t go far enough.

“Conservative” think-tanks like the Heritage Foundation had put pressure on Republicans not to vote for the farm bill, arguing that “U.S. farm policies serve no legitimate purpose,” and that farmers should “base their crop-planting decisions on market demand.”

Speaker John Boehner, who has the unenviable job of rallying the far wing of his party, expected the bill to pass. Boehner, who voted for the bill, blamed the bill’s failure on the Democrats. But even if the 40 Democrats who were anticipated to vote “Yea” had gone along, the bill still wouldn’t have gone through.

The right celebrated the defeat on Twitter, highlighting the continuing divide between the Republican leadership and the Tea Party.

From a conservative perspective, it’s hard to see how this bill’s failure constitutes a reason to celebrate. Isn’t cutting spending by 40 billion dollars, beginning to end direct payments to farmers and requiring food stamps recipients to comply with federal work standards, a step in the right direction? Not if you lack any concept of moderation or incremental change.

The supposed deficit hawks, who were nowhere to be found when Bush was in office, can’t seem to understand that Rome wasn’t built in a day, things take time.

I agree our almost 17 trillion-dollar debt is a problem. Democrats may be right that cutting entitlement programs in the middle of an economic recovery can stifle economic growth and cause suffering, but eventually cuts have to be made. I worry that when the time does come for Democrats to make hard decisions, they’ll resist. The Republican Party should be playing an active role in lessening the weight.

Instead, the GOP, which is now dominated by hard liners, seems set on preventing any legislation that doesn’t perfectly mirror their fiscal vision. Compromise is necessary for good government, and the Tea Party has no interest in working with anyone else. What’s even worse is the movement’s incessant celebration every time the House fails to pass constructive legislation. The Tea Party have a stonewalling fetish, their goal is to prevent, not to create, and they show their true colors when they gloat about a lack of progress.

Although I admittedly take a broader vision of the concept than most, being a “conservative” means one must rationally consider the circumstances. The debt is an issue. There are also people in this country who need help, and they need to be thought about. Yes, the goal is to ultimately get people off government programs, but this needs to be done in a logical and gentle way. Let’s take both things into account. The Tea Party’s idea that the farm bill “didn’t go far enough” is wrong.

In a post on Tuesday, I referred to the Republican dominated House as a result of “political redistricting.” It’s probably better to call it what it is – “gerrymandering” – the restructuring of electoral districts for political purposes.

As for the gridlock in the House ending anytime soon, journalist Dave Weigel offered this hopeful reminder:

Oh well, at least it’s Friday.

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