Good timing: I had a brief Twitter joust yesterday with the Arkansas chapter of the Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity political lobby which is working to turn Arkansas Republican from U.S. senator to constable with what appears to be a nearly unlimited Koch Bros. checking account.
AFP objected to my talking of U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton’s vote (alone among Arkansas congressmen) against the farm bill, which was supported by all the major agri grops. It shouldn’t be called a farm bill, the AFP insists, because it includes money for the supplemental nutrition program (food stamps) that helps poor people buy groceries. Poor people’s groceries apparently don’t come from farmers in the AFP view of the world. What they really object to, of course, is the messaging. It’s easier to defend a vote against the farm bill when you call it welfare (a word that conjures up for the AFP base images of black people in Escalades stuffed with lobsters and Perrier to mix with their Courvosier, all financed by hard-working real taxpayers.)
Delayed point: That joust was accompanied by my receipt of a new report from the American Bridge Project, an organization that supports Democratic candidates. It’s called “Selling Out the Farm: How the Koch Agenda Hurts Arkansas.”
The Koch agenda goes WAY beyond the 2014 farm bill that Cotton opposed and its continuation of government support to help poor people buy farm and ranch products.
It’s about opposition to farm bill after farm bill over the years. It’s about opposition to the conservation reserve program, which pays benefits to many Arkansas farmers. It’s about opposition to federal programs to help develop foreign markets (yes, Arkansas farmers sell goods overseas). Koch organizations have also opposed crop insurance programs, farm credit insurance, marketing loans and the foreign agricultural service. Back in the 1980s, one of the Koch brothers, as a Libertarian vice presidential candidate, lifted his skirt completely on how he’d like to shower his ideas on America. In that campaign, he talked of dismantling federal support for agriculture — farm export assistance, the Soil Conservation Service, food science research support.
This report comes — another coincidence — the same week the Cotton campaign has been braying on Twitter about putting together a “focus group” of Arkansas women and finding none of them had any idea who the Koch Brothers were. I don’t doubt it. And it’s a pity. Because what the Kochs want is what Tom Cotton will give them. They ARE important and it’s a pity more people don’t know about them and their expenditure of millions to elect Tom Cotton and other Arkansas Republicans.
At the secretive billionaires’ retreat that Tom Cotton attended in California in lieu of the Warren Pink Tomato Festival (speaking of Arkansas farms), Cotton was lauded as a true blue Koch-head, with a 100% pro-AFP voting record. He’s actually proud of it most of the time. He believes — seems to have believed since his government-subsidized student loan days at Harvard — that nobody needs government subsidies. He thinks the government should spend less and tax billionaires less and give less aid to poor people. Vote after vote illustrates this — from privatizing Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid; to slashing food stamps; to slashing disaster aid; to reducing federal support for Arkansas Children’s Hospital; to opposing spending that goes into prepration for potential pandemics (think Ebola). You almost have to admire his principle — if it wasn’t so punishing to real people and if he was consistent. Though a foe of a government-set minimum wage, he said he’d vote for one in Arkansas this year. Why? It’s overwhelmingly popular.
You’d think farmers and the amount they contribute to Arkansas’s economy would be popular, too. But, sadly, former Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Blanche Lincoln is a textbook example of the fallacy of that thinking. The farmers themselves — vastly reduced in number thanks to factory farming that relies more and more on machinery and less and less on human labor — probably will vote for Cotton. They like the idea of making deadbeat welfare chiselers (many of them people that factory farming put out of work) fend for themselves. Many farmers don’t stop to think about the considerable government help they enjoy. Just don’t call it welfare.
You simply can’t separate Cotton from the Kochs. Farmers — if he wins — will learn this in a painful way. He was on board the Republican Study Committee budget, which would have stopped new enrollments in the conservation reserve program (which helps 3,000 Arkansas farmers) and eliminated the foreign market development and access programs. Arkansas farmers send $3.2 billion in goods overseas in a year. Voting against those programs — as Cotton did — was a vote against Arkansas farmers.
Has anybody noticed this? Or care? Those women in that focus group the Cotton people are yukking about didn’t.
I sought a comment from the Cotton campaign about criticism of his agriculture voting record and its parallels to the Koch agenda. I did not receive a reply.