Faced with political pressure from Republicans and farming groups, the White House decided in April 2012 not to go ahead with rules that would have prevented children from “operating heavy machinery, handling tobacco crops, working in grain silos or performing other jobs considered potentially dangerous.” The Labor Department issued a statement indicating it was withdrawing the rules due to concern from the public over how they could affect family farms. “The Obama administration is firmly committed to promoting family farmers and respecting the rural way of life, especially the role that parents and other family members play in passing those traditions down through the generations,” the department announced. I contend that this rationale was a ruse intended to cover up the true source of the political pressure. Family farms were actually exempted from the proposed rules.
The Huffington Post reported that “(a)lthough family farms were actually exempted from the proposed rules, many opponents cast them as an assault on family farms and rural traditions, saying the White House wanted to keep children from doing even small chores. In fact, the rules would only have affected minors who were formally employed and on farm payrolls.” To get at why Republicans would have stressed the family farm ruse, it is necessary to go to the funding—for motivation tends to follow it.
From 1996 through at least 2012, agribusiness has given much more to Republicans than to Democrats. The disproportionate giving gave Republican lawmakers a financial (and political) incentive to protect agricultural corporations from regulations they do not want. Because the family farm has a much better reputation in society, it makes political sense that Republicans (and even the farm groups) would claim to be protecting the family farm when the real intent is to keep agribusiness free of unwanted regulations. What is surprising is not the subterfuge; rather, the surprise lies with the Democrat in the White House who caved into the agribusiness interest in spite of where that sector was directing its political contributions. Given the political maxim that perception can become reality, it is likely that the family farm subterfuge worked and Obama felt he had to acquiesce to it or be viewed as against the rural family in the midst of his re-election campaign.
See Related Essay: “Oil and Gas Companies: Citizens Buying Government”
Dave Jamieson, “Child Labor Farm Rules Scrapped by White House under Political Pressure,” The Huffington Post, April 27, 2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/27/white-house-child-labor-agriculture_n_1458701.html
Dan Froomkin, “Corporate Campaign Contributions Show Some Industries Giving Up Appearance of Bipartisanship,” The Huffington Post, April 26, 2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/26/corporate-campaign-contributions-industries-bipartisanship_n_1456071.html