Tuesday, March 22, 2011

More on Hypocrisy

Last week, The Policy Institute released a report titled, “Profiles in Hypocrisy: Montana Legislators Assail Government Spending While Benefitting from Farm Subsidy Programs.” The report identifies thirty-three current Montana legislators who benefitted from farm subsidy programs from 1995-2009, sixteen of them to the tune of more than $100,000 each, and one, Rep. Janna Taylor (R-Dayton), by more than $1 million.

At the same time that these legislators are receiving regular farm subsidy payments from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, many of them are complaining loudly that the government is “out of control,” and are gutting important programs that benefit Montana’s most vulnerable citizens. This is hypocrisy at its worst.

When questioned by a reporter on the issue, two of the biggest beneficiaries – Rep. Taylor and Sen. Bruce Tutvedt (R-Kalispell) – responded by defending farm subsidy programs. That’s not the point. The point is the hypocrisy of the legislators who take large subsidy payments from the government while repeatedly attacking government programs and government in general in the halls of the legislature.

The public should know about legislators who cut the benefits of just about everyone else – from the elderly (Big Sky RX), to kids from single-parent homes (Big Brothers Big Sisters), to low-income children (Healthy Montana Kids), to those struggling with addiction (tobacco prevention programs) – while silently accepting the largess of the federal government to support their own business interests.

And let’s be honest, if many of these legislators really got what they say they want – drastically smaller government and the exclusion of the federal government in state matters – the programs they depend on for the survival of their farms and ranches would be gone. They might even find themselves needing the very programs they despise so much.

But you don’t hear much about farm subsidies in the halls of the Montana Legislature. Perhaps that’s because of the highly partisan dynamic of the current legislature and the fact that more than ninety-eight percent of all of the farm subsidy payments received by members of the legislature went to Republicans. These are members of the same “conservative” majority that promises to bring government “under control.” These legislators are either blinded by their own political posturing or they are so arrogant they just don’t care.

“(These) federal subsidies are necessary in order to ensure an affordable and abundant food supply,” Sen. Tutvedt said in response to the “Profiles in Hypocrisy” report. While that may be true, it’s also true that many children in Montana need the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) so they can go to the doctor when they’re sick. Low-income seniors need the Big Sky RX program to get the prescriptions they need. And kids trapped in abusive and violent home situations need child protective workers to protect them.

It’s really all a matter of values. Of course we all value an affordable and abundant food supply, but is that the end of the good that government can do in our communities? No. Beyond building our roads and keeping our food prices stable, government can and does do many other good things for our communities. And when it does, we all benefit with healthier children, safer streets, an educated workforce, a cleaner environment and in so many other ways.

Let’s not forget that – like it or not – we are all in this together. And let’s be realistic about how the world really operates. The idea is that we all put into the system, and we all benefit from it. Let’s not selectively remember when we put in, and forget when we take out.

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