What was that about?
According to most Capitol Hill sources, the once-2012, then-2013 and now 2014 Farm Bill should clear its final hurdle before the end of January so Congress—after three years of ugly fighting—finally can approve a new farm law.
Passage brings no glory. Golly, Abraham Lincoln got himself elected president, raised an army, built a navy, turned the tide in the Civil War and passed the Emancipation Proclamation in less time than this Congress finally agreed on nothing more threatening than how to spend $100 billion a year for the next five years.
By any standard, that record holds more shame than achievement.
The failure to get a farm law before the old one expired in 2012 was tied to the presidential election that year. The rump caucus of House Republicans wanted to deny the Obama White House any legislative achievement to crow about during its reelection campaign.
And, it did. So a minority of the House majority sidetracked the Farm Bill and forced the nation to wait another year.
The 2013 fight centered on how deeply Congress would cut SNAP, the nation’s biggest food assistance program, that had ballooned from 28.2 million recipients and $34.6 billion in 2008 to 46.6 million recipients and $74.6 billion in 2012.
The Senate and House both agreed on multi-billion-dollar cuts to, in part, finance an expansion of farmer-favored crop insurance. The Senate thought $8 billion would do; the House wanted $40 billion and it voted to strip SNAP from the Farm Bill as proof of its seriousness.
Today, however, the about-to-be-approved 2014 bill not only folds SNAP back into the Farm Bill, the House’s deep, $40 billion cut itself was deeply cut to close to the Senate’s 2013 figure of less than $10 billion.
So what was that year really all about?
Was it an impressive show of muscle by the tea party wing of a split Republican House majority or was it a display of collective ag group weakness to stay out of the SNAP budget fight in order to finance fatter government insurance schemes?
Whatever the reason, most major farm and commodity organizations—excluding the National Farmers Union—stared at their belly buttons when asked to take a stand against House cuts to not feed Americans even as they continued to lobby hard for more government subsidies to “feed the world.”
In the end, the restoration of SNAP to the Farm Bill and the likelihood of just $9 billion in SNAP cuts shows more about the political reality of Farm Bills than the Congressional partisanship and farm group wimpmanship that goes into ‘em.
According to the Nov. 29 Wall Street Journal, (view the story at http://bit.ly/1g1eeeO) seven of the top 10 states with the highest percentage of Food Stamp recipients (in descending order: Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana, Kentucky, Georgia, Alabama and West Virginia) “are some of the reddest states on the electoral map. Eleven of their 14 senators are Republican and their House delegations are all Republican…”
So, what was this years-long delay about if Barack Obama was easily reelected president and one out of five citizens in the most solidly Republican states “on the electoral map” are the biggest beneficiaries of SNAP?
Part of it, so the story goes, was the adamant opposition by House Speaker John Boehner to a proposed change in dairy policy he described as “Soviet-style” supply management.
But even that dog has fleas because the Speaker’s 2013 vote on that going-nowhere House Farm Bill, reported Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, Jan. 9, “was the first such vote he’s taken on the issue since 1996.”
So why did it take so long?
The biggest reason is that Congress no longer resembles America. A mid-November Gallup poll found that only 9 percent of all Americans approved of “the way Congress did its job.”
Nine percent. What do those folks see that you and I don’t?
The Farm and Food File is published weekly through the U.S. and Canada. Past columns, news, events and contact information are posted at www.farmandfoodfile.com.