Guest editorial: Lawmakers choose lobbyists over poor in potato fight

From the Twin Falls Times-News

Hypocrisy is best served piping hot with sour cream and chives. Just ask U.S. Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch.

The pair want white potatoes added to the staple foods poor mothers can buy with their Women, Infants and Children assistance voucher.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2009 removed potatoes from the eligible foods a recipient of the $7.3 billion WIC program can spend the government check after USDA scientists concluded potatoes just aren’t that good for pregnant and lactating women and their offspring. The least healthy forms of potatoes — french fries and chips — are already over-consumed, USDA argued. The cash is better left for other vegetables.

The potato lobby, fattened on the public dole, flipped.

Risch and Crapo, and 16 other beholden senators from potato producing states, earlier this month took the fight to the USDA in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, demanding spuds be reinstated as a WIC staple.

It’s especially comical to see Risch’s name on the call to ignore science in the name of pandering. He’s the self-labeled “most conservative member of the Senate,” a man who’s made a career off blasting welfare and working to gut entitlements. That’s unless it pumps tax dollars into potato farms, of course, right senator?

Big ag has shoveled $300,000 into Risch’s coffers since he took office in 2008, including more than $100,000 from individual farmers, says good government group Open Secrets.

Risch and Crapo last fall voted for the doomed right-wing attempts to defund Obamacare, essentially inking their names on a guaranteed government shutdown, a move that threatened the very WIC programming they now want to tap for some their biggest contributors. Now that’s conviction, alright.

Rep. Mike Simpson has a bill in the House that would require the inclusion of white potatoes in WIC within USDA’s 2015 funding. Never before in WIC’s 40-year history has Congress tried to supersede science and redefine “nutritional value.” Never before has Congress so cynically chosen the ag lobby over the 8.6 million mothers — who happen to be constituents — who rely on WIC every month.

It’s easy to bang around from podium to podium decrying welfare and demanding cuts to programs that prop up the most vulnerable. But, as the push to get the white potato back into WIC shows, it’s not so easy to actually mean it, especially when those writing the checks stand to benefit.