When I last commented on the Farm Bill, I said by holding it over an extra year it had gone on longer than the Korean War and I did not want to hear about it until it was over and done with.
I did not know then that before it was over, House Republican leadership would detour their version of the Farm Bill through their own rendition of the Chosin Reservoir. Only instead of “The Chosin Few” from X Corps being surrounded by 67,000 Chinese troops for a freezing 17-day Korean War battle, Speaker Boehner was wiped out quickly from a rapidly forming right-left coalition that voted to kill the House Farm Bill, 234-195.
The motivation for the right in voting “no” was to simply oppose what conservatives see as an orgy of spending. For the left, it was to oppose a $20.5 billion cut (over ten years) in the food stamp program with new provisions for drug testing and work requirements.
Speaker Boehner and other House leaders including Rep. Colin Peterson, D-MN, the ranking member on the House Agriculture Committee, apparently never saw massacre coming. Right up to before the vote, Peterson was expecting his Democratic colleagues to vote “yes” on the House Farm Bill even though it did contain the food stamp cuts.
The turning point for the House Farm Bill may have been an amendment by Rep. Steve Southerland, R-FL, which would have added the new requirements for food stamps under a pilot program. Whatever set it off, only 24 Democrats voted for the bill. That left 172 Democrats to join 62 Republicans in voting down the bill.
First reports depicted the defeat of the Farm Bill in the House as a big embarrassment for the Republicans who run the House. It is for sure, but might it be something more?
The rural-urban farm bill coalition has held together since the Great Depression may be running out of useful life. The $940 billion Farm Bill is hard to get one’s head around, but it helps if you embrace the coalition thinking. Direct payments, now crop insurance, are easier to swallow for the urban Congressperson if they can be washed down with plenty of food stamps. Likewise, the rural lawmaker can more easily embrace food stamps for those idle urbanites if sugar subsidies remain intact.
At least that is how it worked from roughly FDR through George W. Bush, but maybe no more. Maybe one of the longest running more stable coalitions is over.
One-way to test whether this is true or not is to consider the 234 “no” votes. Did either of the two blocks that came together to produce that majority regret what they did? In other words did they feel guilty about undercutting the historic Congressional coalition that produced farm bill after farm bill over the years?
I don’t think so. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack defended the liberals in the House, saying:
“Unfortunately, the House version of this bill would have unfairly denied food assistance for millions of struggling families and their children, while failing to achieve needed reforms or critical investments to continue economic growth in rural America. As a result, the House was unable to achieve bipartisan consensus.”
Vilsack should have said House Democrats put a historic coalition at risk by voting with their emotions on a bill that would have merely become a vehicle for negotiating with the Senate and never are we ever going to make anybody work or take drug tests in order to get food stamps.
Republican Leader Eric Cantor blamed Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders for turning their backs on a bipartisan legislative product just because they suffered a couple of setbacks.
Cantor should have accepted responsibility for his own leadership allowing one-third of its members to chase some red meat at time with the GOP’s protection of rural America was needed, putting the historic coalition at risk.
More signs of a broken political system, but now one that has gone on long enough that it is beginning tear apart the fabric that has held some important things together for a long time. Very sad, especially when one considers how little differences there are between the Senate-adopted $955 billion (over ten years) Farm Bill and the now defeated House Farm Bill that came in at $940 billion.
In past years, the coalition had no problems working out the program and policy language when the money was that close.© Food Safety News