Might Congress actually split up the gigantic farm bill?
posted at 1:21 pm on June 27, 2013 by Erika Johnsen
We call the large, deliberately convoluted, and $1 trillion/ten years legislation that recently crashed and burned in the House the “farm bill,” but in reality, the majority of the bill’s monetary substance is all about providing funding for the ever-expanding federal food stamp program. The rest of the bill is all about the agriculture sector and the many forms of subsidies, protections, and special assistance they have continually and increasingly received since the Depression era, in effect amounting to little more than corporate pork.
The food stamp program and agriculture policies have long been wedded together in a marriage of convenience, bringing urban/food stamp representatives in league with rural/agriculture respresentatives. Transparency, efficiency, and accountability would suggest that these two items should be separated into their own more specific bills so that we can avoid the relentless amendment-adding and slow down the bill’s usual inertia for more careful consideration, but its present form has a convenient knack for uniting disparate interests in a joint effort to protect the status quo.
After the farm bill’s failure to make it through the House and to conference with the Senate, however, House leadership is going to be thinking about ways they can re-strategize and get this thing passed. House Republican Leader Eric Cantor is apparently mounting an effort to try and sort the package into two separate bills, although it most unfortunately sounds like it’s more of a way to just give the idea some air rather than an effort with a viable chance at this point. Via Politico:
In adopting its own farm bill this spring, the Senate treated the package as a whole, funding food stamps and commodity programs together as they have been for decades. Even if Cantor were successful, splitting the House farm bill now into two seems to raise real problems about the scope of what those talks would be — though it could at least create a vehicle to begin.
For Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and larger American agriculture interests, the two-bill approach represents a major challenge: Do they allow themselves to be whittled down more from the right or embrace a larger reform agenda that rebuilds the old urban-rural coalition more from the middle? …
The [House Agriculture] committee leaders face criticism themselves for being too hesitant in pushing larger reforms. But they could have a common stake with the speaker in trying to find more middle ground. …
“For the farm bill to be successful there must be a conference report that the House is able to pass,” said Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “That is only even conceivable if the House GOP leaders drive to the middle and not to the extremes. Splitting the bill in two possibly jeopardizes passing anything at all now, and for sure means there will never be a final positive vote on a conference report.”
Again, it doesn’t look too probable at this point, though we’ll see how Congress tries to play it — but how messed up is it that actually separating bills into more easily discernible versions, instead of just sailing them through while we deficit spend a trillion dollars every year, is a hallmark of that awful brand of “right-wing extremism”?