Every once in a while the universe hands us a politician so out of touch with reality, so perfectly obtuse and/or scandal prone that comedians everywhere fall all over themselves trying to come up with just one more punch line, spoof or dick pic joke. In the grand tradition of Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Rod Blagojevich, and Anthony Weiner, the cosmos has bequeathed upon us Congressman Steve King, Republican Representative of Iowa, the man known for his opposition to federal funding of hurricane relief (despite his state’s receipt of $1.3 billion in farm subsidies), saying young immigrants have “calves the size of cantaloupes” from “hauling seventy-five pounds of marijuana across the border,” and comparing the country’s unemployed to chore-hating children. And now he is also the man behind the soon to be passed King Amendment to the Farm Bill, a piece of legislation with the potential to repeal state laws regulating everything from pig gestation crates to puppy mills to the sale of dog and cat meat.
Since the passage of the House version of the Farm Bill last week, most of the attention has been, understandably, focused on the $39 billion in cuts in food stamps. These cuts have inspired widespread outrage, which is probably why the White House is threatening to veto any Farm Bill including them. So while we can and should wring our hands over the measure, we may want to start examining other parts of the Farm Bill, equally entitled to mass indignation, but less likely to induce a presidential veto. I suggest starting with the King Amendment.
According to a bipartisan group of 166 members of the House and 23 Senators, this amendment has “the potential to repeal a vast array of state laws and regulations covering everything from food safety to environmental protection to child labor to animal welfare.” It would make it impossible for states to legislate the production of “agricultural products” that are “in addition to the standards and conditions” of federal law, while simultaneously nullifying those already on the books. Largely prompted by California’s 2008 law requiring egg producers to provide caged egg-laying hens with the luxury of space to stand up and spread their wings, the Amendment would also repeal similar bans in other states, like the one passed in 2002 by two and a half million Floridian voters against gestation crates for pigs and a 2006 Arizona law banning both gestation and veal crates.
But that’s only the beginning. As those lawmakers noted in their opposition letter, the “breadth and ambiguity of Rep. King’s amendment are striking.” According to the signatories, the amendment could repeal everything from labeling laws to anti-invasive-pest restrictions on imported firewood to safety standards for farm workers, and even “laws restricting … the sale of dog and cat meat.” Joining in the chorus of opposition are not only Republican and Democratic members of Congress, environmental groups, agricultural organizations and animal welfare advocates, but also the somewhat unexpected Fraternal Order of Police, which has complained that the Amendment would “allow for the proliferation of puppy mills, dog and cock fighting, kill shelters and other animal cruelties,” and the National Sheriffs’ Association, saying the law “will not only place animals at potentially greater risk of mistreatment but also make the investigation of such cases more difficult for law enforcement.” (The FOP is probably wrong about the dog fighting, as the Amendment only applies to “agricultural products,” but sharks qualify as “fish” and puppy mill puppies are “produced on farms” so they are likely right about those.) King declined to comment on these potential implications of his Amendment.
King has already succeeding in leading the charge against Meatless Mondays, using Twitter to voice his anti-vegetable stance. (“USDA HQ meatless Mondays!! At the Dept. of Agriculture? Heresy! I’m not grazing there. I will have the double rib-eye Mondays instead.”) While it’s quite possible that the Congressman from the country’s largest producer of corn and soy (re: factory farm animal feed) just really hates animals, it’s also quite possible that he just really likes the money to be made through their exploitation: OpenSecrets.org has him down for $165,280 in campaign contributions from “Crop Production & Basic Processing” and $100,250 from “Agricultural Services/Products” for the 2011-2012 campaign year.
King recently started presidential bid rumors by announcing plans for a second trip to New Hampshire in three months. We’ve seen what happens to these kinds of candidates on the national stage. The national electorate is unlikely to stomach someone who has suggested that states have the right to ban contraception. (When George Stephanopoulous asked Mitt Romney about the idea in a Republican primary debate, he responded indignantly that such a “silly” question would even be asked.) There is little reason to worry about this guy actually becoming president, or even the Republican nominee, so we should enjoy him for the comedy fodder that he is. But if the Farm Bill passes with this Amendment included, he won’t need a presidency to leave a legacy.