With all the craziness over the government shutdown and potential U.S. default on our debt, one issue that has received markedly less attention than it would normally is the expiration of the Farm Bill last month.
Attempts to reauthorize the bill broke down over House Republicans’ insistence on stripping the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) from their version of the bill, creating months of chaos.
But last weekend, House conferees were finally named, and now that the government is back up and running, the process of creating a final bill is set to begin.
The House and Senate versions of the Bill are worlds apart on a variety of issues—not just SNAP—but the most significant area of non-alignment for people who care about the principle of federalism is a provision inserted into the bill by Iowa Rep. Steve King (Sec. 11312 of H.R. 2642) that would overturn dozens of state laws.
The “King Amendment” dictates that "the government of a State or locality therein shall not impose a standard or condition on the production or manufacture of any agricultural product sold or offered for sale in interstate commerce if (1) such production or manufacture occurs in another State; and (2) the standard or condition is in addition to the standards and conditions applicable to such production or manufacture pursuant to (A) Federal law; and (B) the laws of the State and locality in which such production or manufacture occurs."
In other words, King's amendment will create a race to the regulatory bottom on issues from consumer protection to fire safety to animal welfare by dictating that no state can require any condition on the sale of any agricultural product that falls even one step above that of the least restrictive state.
Despite states' clear interest and longstanding authority in these areas, Steve King thinks that the federal government knows best and should tell Iowa, Mississippi, Oklahoma and all other states what they can and can't do.
Curiously, King claims that his amendment “merely clarifies and reaffirms [the] long-standing constitutional principle” that states do not have “the authority to ban the sale of any good produced in the U.S. based solely on the manufacturing or production standards of the state where it was produced.”
Whatever King’s principle is, it’s neither longstanding nor constitutional. In fact, states have the absolute right to pass laws in areas of traditional state concern like fire safety, food labeling, and animal welfare. If it were otherwise, King wouldn’t have to pass a law, since anyone impacted by the state laws King wants overturned would be able to sue to have them declared unconstitutional. As an indication of how not longstanding King’s principle is, that’s never happened. Not even once.
This isn’t Rep. King’s first (or even second, or even third) foray into invoking the Constitution without basis: He recently declared that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is an “unconstitutional takings of God-given American liberty.” Um, what?
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Remarkably, that was an improvement on his previous claim that babies “show up in garbage cans around this country,” thus making the ACA unconstitutional. It would make a fun New Yorker caption contest to fill in the thought bubble over Colorado Rep. Jared Polis’ head as he listens to King’s constitutional theory of babies in garbage cans.
King has also accused the President of repeatedly changing the ACA in violation of the Constitution and threatened to sue the President for immigration policies he claimed were unconstitutional. And he is one of three members proposing complete repeal of the Sixteenth Amendment (House Joint Resolution 16).
And at least with the Sixteenth Amendment, he’s attempting to follow the process for repeal laid out in the Constitution; for the Fourteenth Amendment, he’s just ignoring the document entirely, proposing a law that would deny citizenship to some people who are born in the United States.
King appears to believe that if you include the word “constitutional” to describe what you support and “unconstitutional” to describe what you oppose, you’ll have a winning argument—whether your statement has any basis in law or not.
Some of this is amusing, but King’s Farm Bill Amendment is no laughing matter; it “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,” according to a letter from more than 150 House members to agricultural committee ranking member Collin Peterson.
The members go on: “For example, labeling and other rules for products and ingredients such as artificial sweeteners, maple syrup, milk fat, farm-raised fish, tobacco, and additives in alcohol could be swept away, as could restrictions on import of firewood carrying invasive pests, rules on pesticide exposure and lagoon siting, safety standards for farm workers handling dangerous equipment, and laws restricting practices such as the killing of sharks for their fins and the sale of dog and cat meat.”
This vast federal overreach is why King’s Amendment is opposed by the National Conference of State Legislators, the Fraternal Order of Police, the League of Conservation Voters, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, the Humane Society of the United States, and more than 80 other organizations.
So does Iowa Rep. Steve King hate the Constitution? Well, he invokes it consistently in a transparently inaccurate manner, proposes laws that could not more flagrantly violate it, and makes up truly bizarre theories about it. Could someone who doesn’t hate the Constitution really invoke it in the way he does? I don’t think so.
Oh, and as I noted in the headline, he also appears to love dogfighting.
Find out more about the King Amendment and take action against it here.