By Telegraph Herald
In many ways, the farm bill represents a lot of the things that are wrong with Washington politics.
It would seem that in a year when 90 percent of the corn and soybean crops have been damaged, if not destroyed, by the worst drought since the Eisenhower administration, elected officials would want to pass legislation to let farmers know what help they can expect from government.
But the real work of legislating grinds to a halt when it’s time for another congressional recess and there is an election on the horizon, and the farm bill has fallen casualty to that distraction. Lawmakers in rural areas don’t want to be seen as cutting farmers’ subsidies — which the bill does by some $15 billion. Others just don’t want to deal with a major spending bill right before this election though everyone knows Washington needs to cut spending. Instead, they’ve opted to play politics with the farm bill while the farmers remain in limbo.
No one anticipates that the worst-case scenario will happen: No action on the bill by Sept. 30 would cause the programs to revert to 1949 policy levels. More likely, lawmakers will create a one-year extension of current policy and postpone hammering out the changes in the bill until next year. That puts farmers at a disadvantage.
Today’s farms are complex business operations that require foresight and planning. The proposed bill would completely change the support farmers get from government to insurance subsidies. This year represents a good example of the necessity of insurance, and how farmers will cover that cost is a long-term consideration, not just a decision for next planting season.
Furthermore, that the farm bill has become a conglomerate of largely unrelated programs is indicative of another problem with governance. Food assistance programs are probably the most contentious part of the farm bill. That begs the question: Why not make nutrition title programs a separate piece of legislation altogether? The answer brings it right back to Washington politics.
Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, says the farm bill would never garner enough votes to pass without other issues tied to it because there just aren’t enough lawmakers representing rural areas anymore. Our Congress is so parochial in focus that those who represent urban areas cannot see the value in supporting farmers? So much for representing the country as a whole.
It appears unlikely that House Republicans will bring the farm bill to the floor for debate before the election in November. If they are putting it off until a more optimal time, perhaps lawmakers will make time for a serious discussion about weeding the politics out of the farm bill.