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David Gaul
Shelby County Democratic Party Co-Chair


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David Gaul
Donna Clothier
Kathleen Cue

WEATHERING THE STORM

Winter storm Atlas tore into eastern Wyoming, western South Dakota  and parts of northwestern Nebraska on October 4th and 5th and inflicted horrific carnage on farmers and ranchers there.  A story in the Lincoln Journal Star estimated that perhaps up to 100,000 cattle died in this freakish, early October storm.  Those estimates have since gone higher.  This same storm then spawned an EF4 tornado in Wayne, Nebraska, on the eastern side of the state.  In short, it was a nasty punch to the gut by Mother Nature. 

As a farmer, I identify and empathize with the farmers and ranchers who lost so much of their stock.  I know what it feels like to lose just a single cow or calf.  One summer, my herd had an ailment that took six of them.  It really brings you low when that happens.  It casts a pall on your psyche that is not easily dispelled.  But losing hundreds of cattle during the course of a single day or night?  That's despair of an entirely different order.  I, frankly, have no idea how I would react to a loss of that magnitude.

But as a Democrat, I know that traditionally our federal government comes to the aid of folks who have suffered such losses.  We have been doing that ever since Roosevelt and the New Deal.  When the dust bowl ravaged some of these very same areas affected by Atlas back in the 1930s, the Roosevelt Administration did what it could to help farmers despite opposition from Republican congressmen.  So, in our modern and more enlightened times, we all know that the federal government will help farmers who have suffered such grievous losses.  Right?

Alas, no. 

We aren't living in more enlightened times.  We are living in a time when tea baggers reign supreme in John Boehner's Republican House of Representatives, and this bunch of anti-progressive misfits specialize in obstruction, obstinance and obsolescence.  Furthermore, they're a lazy bunch who find doing the peoples' work to be an abhorrent thing, an unworthy pursuit that does not befit their personal ideological underpinnings.  And in keeping with this curious and aberrant ethic, we have no current farm bill that in days past had mechanisms in place for dealing with livestock disasters such as these.

In 2011, the farm bill expired, and the famous 112th Congress embodying the tea bagger wave from the 2010 election had no interest in passing a new version.  They derailed the negotiations by insisting on drastic cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  Yes, in their warped view of the world, they determined that the best way to help the agricultural community was to hurt poor people and deprive them of food purchasing power--food, the production of which is basically the only thing farmers do.

In a hasty manner, Congress did pass a partial extension of the 2008 farm bill in 2011, but this extension did not include any livestock emergeny provisions that had been a part of the 2008 farm bill.  Those got tossed aside.  And last year during the drought of 2012, the Republican House of Representatives again refused to pass a farm bill.  The Senate got their act together and passed a bipartisan farm bill, but John Boehner under pressure from the tea bagger caucus refused to bring it up for a vote.  A second extension of the 2008 farm bill was again passed in haste, and once again, the livestock safety provisions were left out. 

In a cruel irony, the farmers and ranchers affected by winter storm Atlas are represented in Congress by tea baggers, tea baggers they probably voted for.  South Dakota and Wyoming have only one representative each in Congress.  Kristi Noem represents South Dakota, and Cynthia Lummis represents Wyoming.  Both cater to the tea baggers.  Both are beholden to tea bagger ideologies. Both are, in fact, tea baggers.  The farmers and ranchers who suffered the losses from the storm have their own representatives in Congress to blame for their lack of recompsense.

And here's where is gets really nasty.  Remember what happened on October 1st of this year?  It was in all the papers.  The tea baggers in Congress shut down the federal government.  They then pursued a strategy to take the federal government to default.  For sixteen days while the government was shut down, they took us toward the edge of economic ruin.  It was during this span of days that winter storm Atlas struck with all its deadly fury.   Desperate farmers and ranchers got only a recording if they called their local Farm Service Agency offices seeking help or advice.  When they drove their pickups to those very same offices, they would have found signs on the doors announcing their closure due to the federal government shutdown.   No solace there.  No advice there.  No help there. 

But the government was finally reopened on October 17th.  Congress voted to end the shutdown and raise the debt ceiling on October 16th.  However, 144 Republicans in John Boehner's House chose to vote NO on reopening the government and averting a federal default.  Kristi Noem and Cynthia Lummis were among those voting NO.  Their own constituients were still suffering from the devastation of Atlas.  The farmers and ranchers were still extracting their dead cattle from fields and ravines where they had perished.  And how did their representatives in Congress choose to help?  They voted to keep the shutdown.  They voted to have the federal government default on it financial obligations.  They chose to drive the economy over the brink.  They chose to make matters worse.

That's leadership, tea bagger style.  And now, negotiations are again underway to pass a new farm bill, but with so few working days left for this dismal Congress in this calendar year, I suspect they will again fail. 

Somehow, some way, this plague afflicting our federal government has to be cured.  Until the tea bagger movement is treated like a pestilence in need of eradication, it will continue to inflict damage and needless hardship upon the American people.




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