The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Editorials

January 30, 2014

Our View: Farm bill: harder than it had to be

Why It Matters: As the farm bill belatedly passes Congress, the question remains: Why is bipartisan agreement so difficult to attain?

Finally.

It’s two years lat, but Congress has at long last settled on the next version of the farm bill: Almost a thousand pages, covering everything from sugar price supports to food stamps to land conservation.

It is a complex piece of legislation, to be sure. But it’s difficult to see the necessity for the counterproductive brawl it spawned.

The farm bill has traditionally been one of Congress’s more bipartisan products. But even it fell afoul of the poisonous politics that permeate Washington.

Consider one of the primary sticking points: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps.

The House bill last July called for $20 billion in food stamp cuts over five years; that measure failed on the floor, torpedoed by Democrats who thought the cuts too deep and Republicans who thought them too slender.

The presumably final version has $8.6 billion in cuts, gained by eliminating participation in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program as a means to qualify for food stamps. (Minnesota does not use the program as a qualifier.) It shouldn’t have taken the House an additional five months to figure that out.

Less controversially, the bill ends direct payments to producers (some of whom aren’t farmers at all), a program much criticized on both side of the aisle. Savings: $19 billion.

The final product will leave some dissatisfied. That’s in the nature of compromise, which is at the heart of the legislative process.

For too long, Congress has been dominated by an all-or-nothing partisan approach. That hasn’t worked, and we are finally beginning to see breaks in that. The budget bill, passed earlier this month, is a prime example.

Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, the senior Democrat on the ag committee (his district includes Sibley County), told the Star Tribune this week that “people are ready to stop fighting.”

It’s about time.

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