Congressman Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn., is championing the fight to reduce the government's food stamp program. And he has his religious faith to guide him. When an opponent of the reductions pointed out that Jesus specifically stressed that we should feed the hungry, Fincher, who was elected in the Tea Party boom of 2010, countered with a verse from the Book of Thessalonians: "The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat." Apparently the Congressman thinks people on food stamps deliberately avoid work so as to draw the average $132.20 per person per month shelled out by the SNAP program in his state of Tennessee. This is similar to the amounts paid in most states.
Explaining his position on food stamps, Fincher said "The role of citizens, of Christians, is to take care of each other,but not for Washington to steal from those in the country and give to others in the country."
Of course, if you steal from the country and give it to Fincher, that's a different matter. As the second largest recipient of farm subsidies in the United States Congress, he has looted -- I mean collected -- $3.48 million from the American taxpayers in the 13 years from 1999 to 2012. In the last year of that period, he drew one direct payment of $70,000. The average Tennessee citizen getting SNAP benefits in that same year drew $1586.40 worth of "food stamp" credit. The gluttons!
The difference in the USDA food stamp program and the USDA crop insurance program, which Fincher is decidedly in favor of, is not just the vast difference in the amounts Fincher and many of his more deprived fellow Tennesseans got from the government. A huge difference is the fact that food stamp benefits go only families with low income. Fincher-type loot goes without restriction, mostly to the most profitable farms in the country. There are farmers in this country who every year receive more than $1 million in subsidies from the government. You can bet they are not farmers sweating every day on a tractor or a combine. In many cases, they don't even live on a farm. They are smart people who know how to game the system, using the telephone and the lobbyist, not cultivators and harvesters.
It's understandable then, from a purely rational, and incredibly greedy, point of view why Congressman Fincher is pushing hard to cut more than $20 billion from the food stamp program while also pushing to expand crop insurance subsidies by $9 billion over the next 10 years.
I am not suggesting that the USDA food stamp program is without blemish. Any government program bears watching and can be modified, improved, even reduced. Wherever a government program involving funds exists, there is an irresistible impulse for some to commit fraud. This is usually taken as a reason to stamp out the fraud, not to starve the participants in the program.
Like the food stamp program, agricultural subsidies are also not without fault. Both Democratic and Republican administrations have recognized this fact and have committed to cut the fat, reduce the bloat, and aim farm support at farmers, not at wealthy manipulators. Somehow, though, it never quite seems to work out that way. Whatever is reduced seems to pop back up, perhaps under a different title, like a whack-a-mole. And, like hogs pushing the young pigs out of the way to slurp up, undeserved, most of the food in the trough, a few greedy politicians yank subsistence from the mouths of the poor while fattening themselves.
It makes you want to slap Congressman Fincher across his smug, well-fed face and send him to bed without supper. For a year. Just so he'll know what it feels like for thousands of his fellow Americans.
Robert B. Simpson, a 28-year Infantry veteran who retired as a colonel at Fort Benning, is the author of "Through the Dark Waters: Searching for Hope and Courage."