Rep. Tom Cotton, the Republican nominee in the Arkansas Senate race, is running an ad highlighting his leadership in trying to fix Washington's broken farm bill legislation. The ad isn't particularly controversial ormaking false claims, in any discernible way and yet "fact checkers" at the Washington Post and PolitiFact have pretty savagely attacked it. Once again, the fact checkers are wrong on the merits. But more than that, there's something very fishy about their Cotton critique.
You can watch the whole ad, but here's the supposedly objectionable claim Cotton makes:
“When President Obama hijacked the farm bill, turned it into a food stamp bill, with billions more in spending, I voted no. Career politicians love attaching bad ideas to good ones. Then the bad ideas become law, and you pay for it.”
As far as legislative sausage-making goes, there are few spectacles more off-putting than Capitol Hill's periodic farm bill extravaganza. The farm subsidies are bad enough on their own, but for decades the bill has also included funding for the unrelated Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), aka food stamps. The result is the worst kind of bipartisanship—rural Republicans compromise on bloating the cost of food stamp funding in exchange for Democratic votes to get their farm subsidies.
This unholy union has been in place for decades, and it's getting out of control. The farm subsidies are clearly excessive, and whereas foodstamps were 55 percent of the cost of the farm bill in 2002, they made up 80 percent of the cost of the bill this year. Furthermore, every time Republicans vote for a pork-filled farm bill they get called hypocrites for claiming to oppose unnecessary handouts.
In 2013, Tom Cotton was among a number of House Republicans who tried to change this sorry state of affairs. They broke the farm bill up into two bills—one for farm subisdies and one for food stamps. Republicans would have to own the cost of their farm subsidies, and Democrats would have to justify the ever-increasing cost of the food stamp program. And taken on their own, there would be no perverse incentive to buy votes to pass a comprehensive farm bill. The House passed a farm bill without the food stamp component in July 2013.
Alas, the Democratic-controlled Senate and the White House did not like the idea of having to justify their out-of-control spending and exerted a great deal of pressure to make sure the sorry farm bill status quo continued. President Obama released a statement condemning the House breaking up the farm bill the day after the House passed a stripped-down version. The White House further released a report in November 2013 titled “The Economic Importance of Passing a Comprehensive Food, Farm and Jobs Bill.” The farm bill that eventually passed in January recombined the food stamps and farm subsidies, and Cotton was one of 63 Republicans who voted against it. As Dan Holler at the Heritage Foundation tells THE WEEKLY STANDARD, "It should come as no surprise that the food stamp reforms are failing and the new farm programs appear to be more costly than projected."
So what is wrong with Cotton's ad? Here's the crux of Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler's argument:
Look at the dictionary definition of hijacking: “to steal or rob…to subject to extortion or swindling.” Is that what Obama did when he said that Congress should continue to do what it did in the past? Or was breaking up the farm bill the more radical step?
The most problematic aspect of Cotton’s ad is that he suggests that attaching food stamps to the farm bill was a new idea—something that he was fighting against. But that’s invented history. As we have shown, this “bad idea” has been in place since before Cotton, 37, was born.