“A Cowboy’s Christmas Prayer” was a poem written by New Mexico rancher S. Omar Barker. It was recorded by both Tennessee Ernie Ford and Jimmy Dean. At a time when a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives are eager to reduce food assistance for poor people, it might be good to reflect on the words of that poem:
“So here’s ol’ Christmas comin’ on, remindin’ us again of Him whose coming brought good will into the hearts of men. A cowboy ain’t no preacher, Lord, but if You’ll hear my prayer, I’ll ask as good as we have got for all men everywhere. Don’t let no hearts be bitter, Lord. Don’t let no child be cold. Make easy beds for them that’s sick and them that’s weak and old. Let kindness bless the trail we ride, no matter what we’re after, And sorter keep us by Your side, in tears as well as laughter.”
Recently, the House of Representatives voted on a farm bill that would have cut more than $21 billion from food aid to the poor over 10 years. The bill failed because 62 Republicans wanted much deeper cuts. They argued that continued assistance encouraged many people not to get jobs. This attitude was best exemplified by Congressman Stephen Fincher. He quoted from the Bible to explain why many poor people shouldn’t get food aid: “For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” Rep. Fincher failed to explain that Paul was actually referring to those who refused to work while waiting for Christ to return.
It took a lot of gall for Fincher to make that argument since his farming enterprise took in $3.48 million in farm subsidies between 1999 and 2012. Last year was a disappointing year for farmer Fincher since he only received $70,574 in government aid or a measly $193 a day. Meanwhile, Fincher’s average Tennessee constituent on food aid received $132.20 in grocery vouchers for a full month.
Fincher did vote for the bill with the reduced food aid possibly to protect his own producer subsidies and federal crop insurance. After all he and other really deserving Americans, including many large companies, needed to be protected against market and natural failures.
Rep. Tom Cotton of Arkansas’ 4th district could not find it in his heart to be so generous with his poor constituents. About a third of the 511,000 Arkansans who receive food aid live in Cotton’s district. In the eastern counties of his district, nearly half the children receive government food aid. In fact nationwide, two-thirds of food aid goes to children, the elderly or disabled. Most other recipients do work, but many are employed in minimum wage and part time jobs. Statistics show that the percentage of recipients who work has increased for the last twelve years.
House Republicans did subsequently pass legislation protecting farm subsidies without considering food stamps. The bill passed with no Democratic support and little prospect of reaching a final settlement on a farm bill with the Senate. In voting for this legislation, Cotton said: “For 40 years, farm programs have been chained to the food-stamp program. We’ve now finally broken this needless link. Rather than a bloated, $940 billion bill that was 80 percent food stamps, we now have a Farm Bill focused squarely on farmers.”
For obvious pragmatic reasons, farm groups are opposed to breaking the link between farm and nutrition programs. Mary Kay Thatcher, a policy specialist at the American Farm Bureau, questioned the viability of the Republican plan: “You’re looking at 435 members in the House, 25 percent of whom have zero farmers in their district. How does one go to the Hill and convince one of those members of Congress to support spending money for agriculture?” she asked.
While Fincher, Cotton and their ilk think highly of themselves and look down on the poor, their actions prove that they are small men lacking in human decency. With their self serving attitude, they can’t possibly comprehend the wisdom of this verse from A Cowboy’s Christmas Prayer: “I’ve seen ol’ cows a-starving, and it ain’t no happy sight: Please don’t leave no one hungry, Lord, on thy good Christmas night - No man, no child, no woman, and no critter on four feet - I’ll aim to do my best to help You find ‘em chuck to eat.”
Larry Black, Van Buren