The “Razorback Subsidy” is a Whole Different Kind of Disaster for Taxpayers | Citizens Against Government Waste

The “Razorback Subsidy” is a Whole Different Kind of Disaster for Taxpayers

The WasteWatcher

President Obama needs to pass a bill, but a powerful chairwoman of a Senate committee, who is in danger of not being reelected, adds a controversial and expensive provision that puts passage in jeopardy.  Conventional wisdom says that the White House cuts a deal.  And, unfortunately, that is exactly what happened at the end of July, when the White House told the Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark) that they would still help her obtain $1.5 billion in farm disaster aid if she promised to remove language funding the program from a small business bill. 

Sen. Lincoln took the deal.  The bill didn’t pass, but that did not matter much because Sen. Lincoln got an assurance from White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) would fund her priority “administratively.”

Unfortunately for Sen. Lincoln, but fortunately for taxpayers, it does not appear that it is even possible to fund this $1.5 billion project administratively.  According to Congress Daily, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) has been quoted saying that he does not believe that the USDA has the ability to provide the aid that Sen. Lincoln is seeking.  This is probably not the first time that a false promise was made in politics, but what makes this situation particularly troubling for the taxpayers is the fact that Sen. Lincoln and the White House were willing to bypass Congress’s spending power to find the funding in the first place in order to try and save her job.  An August 25, 2010 New York Times editorial aptly called this fiasco the “Save-the-Senator Program.”

Congress has the power of the purse, and such authority cannot be bypassed.  Under Article 1 [section 9, clause 7] of the U.S. Constitution, “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.”  This means that federal agencies may not spend money for their operations and programs that Congress has not appropriated or specifically authorized, so tapping the taxpayers for $1.5 billion to fund a program “administratively” is not constitutional. 

While Sen. Lincoln may want to help some of her constituents, it appears that her priority to fund disaster agriculture assistance cuts off other constituents that have been waiting for payment from the USDA on a separate issue.  According an August 22, 2010 article in The Washington Post, “Black lawmakers note that the administration and Congress have yet to come up with $1.2 billion owed black farmers under the settlement of a major discrimination lawsuit.”

Not surprisingly, the issue is all about political patronage.  The largest likely recipient of this new farm aid would be in Sen. Lincoln’s state.  According to a report by the Environmental Working Group, Ratio Farms, of Helena, Ark., would receive $787,199. 

Sometimes things are exactly as they appear.  In this instance, the White House tried to induce embattled Sen. Lincoln to act the way they wanted on a bill, but with authority they did not possess.  Sen. Lincoln and the Obama administration should be ashamed of trying to bypass the constitutional process to score political points. 

Fortunately for taxpayers, it looks like trampling the U.S. Constitution has made reelection prospects for Sen. Lincoln even dimmer.  A Reuters/Ipsos poll had Sen. Lincoln trailing her opponent by 19 points in early July.  In contrast, an August 20, 2010 Rasmussen poll showed Sen. Lincoln trailing her opponent by 38 points. 

-MacMillin Slobodien

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