U.S. House stalls farm bill progress

Journalism school doesn’t make cynics out of people who pick up the pen for a living.

Committing journalism — using the pen to chronicle the escapades of crooks and crackpots you encounter as a journalist — often does, though.

A glaring example of this transformation arrived in the late July action of Speaker of the House John Boehner. No one, not even the most ink-covered, nicotine-stained journalist could have foreseen the Speaker’s cynical use of the worst drought in 50 years to paper over his colleagues’ failure to act on a needed farm bill.

Like the current drought, Boehner’s dilemma grew worse over the summer. After a year of dull talk and even duller hearings, both Congressional ag committees completed their 2012 farm bill work by mid-July.

Bipartisan effort

The full Senate, in a rare display of bipartisanship, even passed its bill June 21. But the House held any chance to get the two versions welded together before the 2008 act expires Oct. 1.

Boehner kept the House bill back because it contained too few spending cuts for the tea-drinking wing (nearly 90 votes) of his Republican majority.

Indeed, the Committee-passed bill pared just $35 billion from its 10-year spending plan of $969 billion and just $16.5 billion of that from what everyone still calls the food stamps, now SNAP, program.

That tissue-thin slice — 1.6 percent! howled tea party activists — from food stamps meant Boehner needed Democratic votes for the House to pass the committee bill.

Worse, he needed those votes before Congress went on its five-week August recess so staffers could “conference” the two versions to have any chance to meet the farm bill’s Oct. 1 deadline.

The Dems, however, were never going to pull Boehner’s bacon out of the tea kettle. Their party’s power is urban-based and those representatives want more food aid, not less.

In fact, this farm bill’s proposed farm-to-food-aid ratio — four out of every five farm bill dollars go to nutrition programs — is largely why for 50 years rural House members have delivered farm bills filled with food stamps and, for 50 years, their urban colleagues have delivered farm bills to farmers and ranchers.

Doomed to fail

No farm bill has ever or will ever move without that rural-urban coalition to fuel it. So Boehner, in a bind, took a page from today’s toxic playbook and devised a doomed-to-fail scheme to extend the current farm bill one year so that when it failed, and it would, he could place the blame anywhere but on himself and his divided Republican Party members.

The device designed to do just that was a 47-page bill that didn’t just extend the 2008 law through October 2013; it all but rewrote it.

For example, explained the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Boehner’s plan not only cut “farm conservation programs by $761 million,” it also “effectively terminate(d)… all farm-bill funded rural economic development, renewable energy, organic agriculture, local food and beginning and minority farmer programs…”

And, the NSAC went on, it did so with “no open deliberations, no hearings, no testimony, and no chance for amendments.”

The Speaker, of course, could have cared less. His job wasn’t for the House to pass his bill or any bill. His job was make it appear that failure — and failure was in the air before he ever uttered the words “farm bill” in late July — lay at the feet of Dems while giving his party’s tea drinkers something to chew on other than him.

Widespread opposition

But the jig was up even before it got to a vote. Almost every farm group canned the speaker’s plan from the start. The cynicism in it was so evident and so transparent that everyone with a scoop shovel or pitchfork in the farm bill fight saw through it in an instant.

So, now, several more months will pass without the House doing the simple job of passing its farm bill.

Which reminds me, when’s Election Day?

About the Author

Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children. farmandfoodfile.com More Stories by Alan Guebert

One Comment

  1. PowerOfChoice says:

    The Farm Bill should not contain items for welfare, energy, broadband, housing, etc. and everything should stand on its own in any future bills to better control costs and eliminate the special interests and self-serving items being added. Farmers should not have their needs controlled by Food Stamps or other items and battles regarding help for a separate entity. A Farm Bill should be based upon Farmers needs or merits and nothing else. The other side is SNAP should not be dependent upon Farmers needs and those battles and should also be based upon its needs or merits and nothing else.

    A prime example of accommodating self-serving entities is The Senate Bill in this section: SEC. 12211. DEFINITION OF RURAL AREA FOR PURPOSES OF THE HOUSING ACT OF 1949 would increase the pool of recipients and also increased rural community population requirement to 35,000. This population level would be a small City not a true rural community. Also, changing the Census date to 2020 insures those who have already received fair share of benefits over past years and now self-sufficient to continue receiving such benefits. This means less money available to true rural area communities, because others would continue receiving more after they are now self-sufficient and no longer rural.

    With only X amount of dollars available the Senate wants to add more communities with their hands out looking for more. The Senate would be adding to our country’s problem instead of politely informing those areas that they have already received their share and it is now other smaller communities turn to receive those benefits. That is the purpose of rural programs to help very small struggling communities grow and become self-sufficient, not to become a welfare system for self-sufficient communities who have already received past benefits wanting more.

    Enough is enough … the Farm Bill is antiquated with too much past garbage and needs to die. Legislators can then implement separate meaningful cost effective measures to address various problems or needs and keep it simple for future review as needed.

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