ICYMI: In Defense of the Farm Bureau

May 31, 2016

By Larry Combest
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Published May 29, 2016

Editor’s Note: Earlier this month, Heritage Action CEO, Michael Needham, wrote an op-ed playing their old song that trashes farmers and farm policy that was published in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. This time, in an incredible act of duplicity, Needham tried to portray the Arkansas Farm Bureau, a grassroots organization if there ever was one, of being part of “the establishment” in Washington, D.C. Friend of Farm Policy Facts and Former Congressman Larry Combest wrote a response in kind to set the record straight as to who is the real Washington insider.

Michael Needham’s column (Acknowledging the Game is Rigged, May 8) was laughable.

Needham attacks the Farm Bureau as a big Washington establishment-lobbying outfit that spends boatloads of money defending U.S. farm policy. Yet, nearly every Arkansan knows and respects the work of the Farm Bureau.

Former Rep. Larry CombestWhat Needham fails to mention is that he actually runs one of Washington’s most powerful lobbying shops, with Charity Navigator reporting Needham’s Heritage Action raked in over $96 million in 2014 alone.

Although Needham declines to disclose Heritage Action’s donors, admitting that the group is “not being transparent” about its contributors, we know from the same report that some of America’s wealthiest individuals are bankrolling Needham’s operation.

Needham has become quite the Washington celebrity, having been described as an “elite in the making” with an “insider’s pedigree”, born in Manhattan, New York to a wealthy Wall Street banking family, and educated in the Ivy league.

Having failed to disclose that Needham himself is apparently up to his eyeballs in the Washington he calls a “corrupt cesspool that exists solely to cater to well-connected special interests,” under what moral authority then does he attack the good name of the Farm Bureau?

Alongside his hypocrisy, Needham’s memory and elite education also fail him.

He says U.S. farm policy is unpopular, but a recent poll says 92 percent of Americans support it, with 81 percent saying agriculture is important to our national security.

Needham expresses shock that farmers would form alliances with other groups, including hunters and fisherman, in order to pass a Farm Bill, but he says nothing of Heritage Action forming an alliance with environmental extremists to defeat the same legislation (Agri-Pulse, Dec. 10, 2012).

Needham says U.S. farm policy costs $100 billion per year, but the official budget scorekeeper says it was actually just 12 percent of that figure in 2015 and 16 percent if you throw in conservation.

Needham complains that agriculture policies under the Farm Bill should have been split off from Food Stamps, but what he does not tell you is that when the House of Representatives honored his request he and Heritage Action opposed the split.

Needham says economists on the political left and right have come to an agreement in their opposition to farm policy, but he forgets to mention that these economists were paid by the left and right to wage a campaign against the Farm Bill.

Needham presents himself and Heritage Action as the vanguard of conservatism, but the legislative fumbling and bumbling that they inspired has prevented Congress from blocking EPA’s Waters of the U.S. regulation, perhaps thebiggest attack upon private property rights in memory.

At bottom, Needham’s entire column is smoke and mirrors.

After all, does anyone really believe that those donors who contributed over $96 million in one year alone only expect Needham and Heritage Action to “restore trust and good policy”? No. These donors have legislative interests they want pursued and at least some of these interests are evidently at odds with those hard working Americans who clothe and feed this country and much of the world.

U.S. farm policy, in one form or another, has been around since this country was founded. This policy responds to natural disasters that destroy crops and livestock and predatory trade practices used by countries like China to steal American jobs and industry.

To this, Needham falls back on his aristocratic laurels with a modern version of “let them eat cake.” Writes Heritage Action’s sister group, Heritage Foundation: “Many Americans worry that China is stealing jobs from the United States and will surpass America as the world’s strongest economy. Heritage expert Derek Scissors explains why this simply isn’t the case.”

What planet are they on?

Needham reportedly backed a candidate for the GOP nomination who presumably embraces Heritage Action’s give-American-jobs-and-industry-away program, which I expect is totally out of step with the views of most Arkansans.

And, based on his column, Needham is evidently not too happy that the political revolution in the countryside that he thought he was helping lead backed another leader instead. For his part, Mr. Trump has made it clear that he does not support Needham’s give America away agenda, which may be good for Heritage Action’s wealthy donors but just as plainly not so good for hard working Americans.

About the only thing that Needham managed to get right is that the “[t]he people are not wrong, and their anger toward the Washington establishment is well-deserved.” And, perhaps, none is more deserving of public anger than Michael Needham.

Larry Combest represented West Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives where he served as Chairman of the Intelligence and Agriculture Committees and was consistently ranked among the most conservative lawmakers in Congress. Combest now lives and works in Lubbock, Texas and is a principal in Combest Sell & Associates, which proudly stands up for farmers, ranchers, and rural concerns before the Administration and Congress.