Whitesburg KY

Froma Harrop

Michelle Bachmann, let’s make a deal



I’ll make a deal with you, Michele Bachmann. We taxpayers don’t have to subsidize breast pumps in return for not subsidizing your business. From 1995 to 2006, the Bachmann family glommed $251,000 off the farm program, according to the Environmental Working Group. Fiscal conservatives call these government handouts by their rightful name, corporate welfare. Are we getting through to you, Michele?

Can’t tell. The Republican rep from Minnesota now purports to save money by ending the deduction for breast pumps, which Michelle Obama supports. Noting that she had breast-fed her five children, Bachman said: “To think that the government has to go out and buy my breast pump … You want to talk about the nanny state, I think we just got a new definition.”

Who needs a government nanny when you’ve got a sugar daddy?

Bachmann cleverly hit on a medical device that involves women’s breasts. References to female anatomy inevitable draw attention and yucks. (During the health care debate, she warned about “school-based health clinics” turning into “sex clinics.”) And since breast pumps are a tool that helps working mothers save up breast milk for their babies, mocking them feeds a conservative bias for stay-at-home moms. You don’t hear complaints about eyeglasses, artificial teeth and crutches, also deductible.

Bachmann’s a bit confused over what a tax deduction is. It doesn’t pay for things. It lets a taxpayer subtract the cost of something from taxable income. The result is some savings on taxes, but not nearly enough to cover the cost of the item.

But suppose the first lady had called on government to actually buy breast pumps. The money we’ve sent the Bachmann farm alone could have paid for 1,260 top-of-the-line $200 models.

Nationally, American taxpayers spent about $250 billion on farm subsidies between 1995 and 2009. Imagine how many heart bypasses, new schools, bridge repairs, border patrol trucks — and breast pumps — that money could have bought. Or how much of the national debt could have been retired.

The back-and-forth over breast pump subsidies has been amusing, but inconsequential. Out-ofpocket medical expenses must total at least 7.5 percent of adjustable gross income before they may be deducted. To take a tax deduction, of course, one must pay income taxes and itemize. So making breast pumps deductible helps very few mothers.

Back on the farm, who gets all the big government checks? Over the past 15 years, the richest 10 percent of recipients received 74 percent of the dough, or an average $445,127 a year, according to the Environmental Working Group. The group is heavy with large corporations and absentee landowners, including nearly 600 residents of Manhattan.

EWG founder Ken Cook wrote that direct payments (just one of the ag-business programs) “go out to farmers and landowners even if crop prices and farm profit are setting record highs — and most such records have been set in the past few years — or even if the recipient plants no crops at all.” The bill to the taxpayer? About $5 billion a year since 2005.

Interestingly, the Obama administration’s new budget plan would curb subsidies for large farms by $4.25 billion over 10 years. But the House Republicans’ budget proposal doesn’t touch them — this despite demands to do so from such conservative voices as The Wall Street Journal, National Review, Heritage Foundation and principled tea party groups. Their budget would cut $747 million this year from the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, however.

So here’s the trade, Michele. We let you pick off a whole bunch of “nanny state” tax deductions. But you also must support efforts to stop sending billions to well-to-do farmers like yourself. Do we have a deal? ©2011 The Providence Journal Co. ©2011 The Providence Journal Co.

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