Food fight


If congress fails to pass a new farm bill before the current one expires Sept. 30, the nation's food-stamp program -- which the measure includes -- could be in jeopardy. Lawmakers should not leave for their election recess before they act on the legislation.

Food-stamp spending has doubled in the past five years, to about $80 billion a year, as the Great Recession has swelled the number of the program's recipients to 46 million from about 20 million. Nearly 1.8 million Ohioans and 2 million Michiganians depend on food stamps to supplement their household budgets.

Without food stamps, another 3.9 million people would join the 46 million Americans who live in poverty. Recipients in Ohio and Michigan get slightly more than the national average of $134 a month in food stamps.

House Republican lawmakers are stalling on the farm bill until after the November election, in another effort to embarrass President Obama politically and to encourage voters to blame him for the nation's lackluster economy. Lack of action on the farm bill also delays the needed effort to rationalize farm subsidies -- something that both parties claim is needed to help reduce the deficit.

The bipartisan farm bill passed by the Senate last June aims to save $23 billion over a decade, largely by eliminating many subsidies and direct payments to farmers, whether or not they grow certain crops. It also would cut food-stamp spending by $4.5 billion -- not enough, some opponents of the bill say.

The version of food-stamp legislation approved by the Republican-controlled House Agriculture Committee would cut food-stamp spending by $16.5 billion. The reluctance of House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio to schedule a floor vote on the measure suggests a recognition among House GOP leaders that the measure goes too far.

Americans who need food stamps to keep their families nourished should not have to put their lives on hold while lawmakers engage in a partisan squabble. A proposed one-year extension would merely kick the debate down the road, but may be the only course of action available in the short term.

Lawmakers should not use this summer's drought, the worst in 50 years, to justify a bad farm bill. Crop insurance will cover most farmers' major drought-related losses if a new bill is not passed by the end of the month.

The next farm bill may not be as generous as Big Agriculture wants. But that does not justify allowing one of the world's richest nations to let millions of its poor citizens go hungry. Congress needs to try again.