While most of the country has been focused on the battle over the gay marriage, DOMA, and California's Proposition 8, last Tuesday President Obama signed into law an Agriculture Appropriations Bill which contains a provision protecting genetically modified seeds from litigation in the face of health risks.
Dubbed the Monsanto Protection Act by its opponents, the bill is the most recent example of the power of lobbying and special interests and highlight many of the problems behind federal legislation.
The passage of this bill is eerily similar to some of the most unconstitutional pieces of legislation in American history that have been passed with little or no media oversight, rushed through Congress, and signed by the president in the last decade. The Patriot Act was thousands of pages, each one of them shredding the Bill of Rights, yet it was written before 9/11. Quietly, on New Year's Eve fifteen months ago, President Obama codified the right of the U.S. military to kidnap (excuse me, "indefinitely detain") American citizens without trial.
For all of the laments over gridlock and a supposed lack of bipartisanship and compromise in Washington, there is little that moves faster through the halls of Congress and on to the president's desk than a bill that restrains liberty, expands state power, or protects corporate interests.
Like nearly all of the entire spider web of federal regulations, statutes, edicts and decrees that govern almost every minutiae of civil and economic activity, the Monsanto Protection Act was written by special interests. In combination with Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Monsanto literally authored the provisions that exempt the corporate giant from being sued in federal court.
Despite cloaking legislation in "the public interest," state regulations are almost always implemented with the combination of corporate and state interests for their mutual benefit. Large corporations get protection from the free market and smaller competitors, subsidies, or other special privileges, the state gets its PR and continued flow of campaign contributions, and the American public loses.
This is why companies like Costco and Wal-Mart lobby for minimum-wage increases and why early industrial giants supported the beginning of the implementation of the regulatory state over a century ago.
No one should be surprised that this Monsanto bill quickly received the president's signature; President Obama is no stranger to this type of corporatism himself, as his "landmark" health care law was lobbied for and written by the insurance and pharmaceutical industries themselves.
Another characteristic of federal legislation is the sheer monstrosity of the bills. The provisions protecting Monsanto are just a small part of the Agriculture Appropriations Bill (HR 933), a spending package loaded with farm subsidies, grants and a myriad of the usual government cronyism.
This is how spending bills work. Congressmen and Senators sneak in their own little pet projects, scratching each other's backs. The 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) contained funding for the entire military-industrial-complex, and a few Senators snuck in the provision that gave the president the authority to make military arrests without trials. If, say, someone were to vote against it, why that's not supporting "the troops" and "defense." Ditto for this agriculture bill. What are you, Senator, against farms?
Despite the eery calm behind this bill's passing, there have thankfully been grassroots outrage. A rally of farmers protested outside of the White House Wednesday, and over 250,000 people have signed a petition opposing the Monsanto provision. The more the word gets out, the more outrage there will be.
It might also make progressives realize that what gives Monsanto and large corporations this type of power is the same large, centralized state that they have so much trust in. Freeing up markets and limiting government power would be perhaps the biggest deathknell to corporatist legislation and the influence of special interests. Until then, bills like this will always be the norm, not the exception.