So why don't I hear South Dakota's conservatives threatening insurrection over the federal government's intrusion via subsidies on agriculture, which accounts for 9% of our economic activity?
South Dakota native Don Carr from the Environmental Working Group asks that question in the Huffington Post. He notes that in the midst of the March health care debate, Senator John Thune signed on to a letter protesting the cuts President Obama wants to make to farm subsidies. Note that when the President likes government aid, it's Marxism, but when Senator Thune likes government aid, it's a "farm safety net."
You call this a "safety net?" The data show that the vast majority of the subsidies defended by the nine senators go to the largest and wealthiest plantation-scale farm operations in the country. In 2009, the top 10 percent of the largest farm recipients in America collected 74 percent of all farm subsidies. At the same time, according to the USDA, 62 percent of farmers -- nearly two thirds -- received no payments whatsoever.
Keep in mind that the farm economy has been white hot compared to other economic sectors. USDA projects that farm income will rise by 12 percent in the next year, following a decade that produced the five highest years ever for farm income. But agriculture's bipartisan appetite for taxpayer money is insatiable. Members of Congress of both parties from states and districts with commodity crop interests, backed by the powerful Ag lobby, continue to stave off reform. Self-identified Democratic fiscal hawks, like Arkansas' Blanche Lincoln, are not immune to criticism over their farm subsidies either. [Don Carr, "Will Farm Subsidies Be the Tea Partiers' Achilles Heel?" Huffington Post, 2010.05.05].
Ned Hodgman points out the waste and harmful externalities of farm subsidies that favor less healthy crops and water-intensive mega-farming. Says California cotton grower Philip Bowles (whose own operation receives enormous subsidies), "The government has decided in their wisdom to encourage production of crops the market doesn't want. It must make political sense because it certainly doesn't make economic sense."
John Thune won't lead that conversation. Odds are, neither will Kristi Noem or any other starlet of our vociferous, corn-fed conservative criers.
Perhaps related: The EPA and USDA are teaming up to give cattlemen federal money to help them turn their livestock methane emissions into energy. Senator Thune opposed efforts to tax cattlemen for their cow burps and farts (efforts that never existed). His Republican colleagues won't even require cattlemen to measure and report their methane emissions as other polluting companies must. That's Thune conservatism: fight like heck against federal regulation, but take every federal dollar you can get.