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Lincoln Blocked Stronger Limits On Ag Subsidies While She Collected Them

Sometimes you write a story, you add a little kicker, and then you realize – a bit too late – that the kicker was actually the big story. Such it is with my post about Blanche Lincoln from this morning, about her collection of agricultural subsidies through her family’s rice farming operation.

In it, I noted that Lincoln was the only Democrat to vote against the Senate’s version of the 2002 farm bill, which placed some limits on subsidies to agribusiness. At the time, she was COLLECTING those subsidies. While a coalition of farm-state Senators succeeded in getting the subsidy limits into the bill, Lincoln stood in opposition to them. This 2002 NYT story explains (remember, at the time, Democrats actually held a 51-49 majority in the Senate, thanks to Jim Jeffords’ party switch):

The Senate passed a farm bill today that increases basic subsidy programs, doubles spending for conservation programs and puts strict limits on how much money a single farmer can receive […]

The measure passed 58 to 40 with nine Republicans joining the Democrat majority, and it stands in stark contrast to the House farm bill approved last fall. That bill gives less money to conservation and nutrition programs, places no limits on individual subsidy payments and gives an additional $9 billion to commodity subsidies over a decade […]

Western senators of both parties worried about restrictions on water and packing houses. Southern senators complained about restrictions on subsidy payments.

Senator Blanche Lincoln, Democrat of Arkansas, voted against her party to protest payment limits that fell most heavily on rice and cotton farmers.

The Senate bill passed an amendment limiting any farm to no more than $225,000 in subsidies. Lincoln voted against that amendment. The conference report of the bill, combined with the Republican-controlled House, raised the subsidy cap to $360,000. Lincoln ended up voting for the final bill after the caps were raised. Her votes tracked with her Republican colleague from Arkansas at the time, Tim Hutchinson; no on the Senate bill, yes on final passage after the subsidy caps increased.

As I said, throughout this time, when Lincoln was siding with Republicans and pleading for less stringent subsidy caps for farmers, her family farm was receiving payments from the USDA, and her family members were as well.

To be clear, Lincoln (known as Blanche Lambert, her maiden name, for the purposes of collecting subsidies) and her family received around $715,000 over a ten-year period from 1995-2005, less than the caps put in by the 2002 farm bill and even the Senate version. But there’s something very sleazy about fighting for bigger Ag subsidies while collecting them.

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David Dayen

David Dayen