(Promoted by Colorado Pols)
"We cannot solve problems with the same thinking
we used when we created them"
I spent Father's Day of this year reflecting on the the challenges of Colorado's 4th Congressional District, a landscape of both abundance and scarcity. A land where federal programs have provided an abundance for some; for others, only the prospect of increasing scarcity. A land so rich in natural resources that it's hard to comprehend that any of its residents are challenged in the way they are today.
As we witness the growing chasm between the abundance for some and scarcity for others – it's mind-numbing for anyone paying attention.
Then in September the US House of Representatives, aided by the leadership of Cory Gardner, voted to systemically dismantle the safety nets for our country's most challenged residents; a $40 billion cut in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that will not only further decimate existing safety nets – but eliminate 55,000 Coloradans from being eligible. Just prior to the final House vote in September, Congressman Gardner had this to say:
“I’m anxious about it,” said Gardner, a few hours before the vote. “I’m glad we’re moving forward on a path that should complete the farm bill but the road has not been easy. I don’t want to be overconfident at any point.”
It falls in to the category, "I wish I was making this up."
When Congress returns to finish this session on December 9, it will be the last opportunity to pass a Farm Bill, an effort almost ignored by the Press yet perhaps the most apt symbol of a dysfunctional Washington.
But I would argue the political dysfunction that holds the Farm Bill hostage is only surpassed by the pragmatic dysfunction of what the legislation will deliver to the American taxpayer: the Republican House passed farm bill ends conservation compliance as a precondition for subsidies; the Senate version requires compliance as a precondition for crop insurance. They're cutting $40 billion from vital food programs while taking away the last constraint on farmers who don't practice sound soil conservation. Sugar will remain heavily subsidized, while fruits and vegetables have no seat at the table; the US taxpayer has shelled out almost $4 billion in payments to Brazil because our cotton subsidy program is in violation of world trade agreements. The Senate is attempting to limit the taxpayer exposure to milk subsidies, while the House version could lead to out-of-control government subsidies.
And while the proposed cuts by my self-avowed, fiscally-conservative Congressman will further exasperate hunger, fear not fellow billionaires: your subsidies are not at risk.
Perhaps Robert Reich summed it up best:
To call the Congress that enters its final weeks of the year a "do-nothing" Congress is far too generous. Not only has it done nothing to reform the nation's obsolete immigration laws, or our absurd and unfair tax system, or the government's heinously intrusive methods of spying on its own citizens. But in failing to extend unemployment benefits to 1.3 million jobless people who are about to lose them, or enact any climate legislation, or renew the ban on plastic guns, or end the draconian budget "sequester" that willy-nilly cuts spending on defense and on the poor and needy, it has done worse than nothing. As the year reaches a close, America is worse off than it was when the 113th Congress began. I don't mean to draw a false equivalence. It is the Democrats who have accomplished nothing. Republicans, by contrast, have accomplished exactly what they intended.
So as we struggle implementing 20th century federal programs into a 21st century economy, as we continue to shower the largess of the American taxpayer on a select few agricultural producers, as we struggle to maintain rural viability because of the lack of communications and infrastructure investments – and as we watch the collapse of some regional ecosystems and their finite natural resources – it would be an appropriate time for rural America to exercise some self-reflection: Is Rome burning? Are our rural communities benefiting from the current programs? Should we change course? Is it time to transition to new crops? Do we really "feed the world"?
Tough questions. And most in rural America rarely enjoy such questions. But ask them, we must. It's time for new thinking. It's time to begin the transition of how we adapt to changing climates, how we embrace a new energy future and how we provide basic safety nets that provide dignity and support to every one of our neighbors.
In our state alone, the childhood poverty rate has grown faster than only one other state in the entire union. More than Colorado 200,000 children now live in poverty – twice as many as just one decade ago. We're better than this – and given that it is generally successful state programs that morph in to federal programs, let's bring Colorado's diverse interests together to solve this problem. We take on big visions in the Centennial state – it's how we roll. We've lead the national narrative on clean energy, ended the prohibition on cannabis and are beginning the process of tackling air quality issues around natural gas development.
We have an embarrassment of riches in human capital, natural resources and forward thinkers, giving us an abundance of opportunity – limited only by a scarcity of leadership.