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The farm bill passed by the Republican-controlled House is not the basis of serious legislation. Rather, it is a partisan statement that illustrates again how far the House GOP has moved from any concern for responsible public policy — and from the nation’s political and ideological mainstream.
The House measure, like previous farm bills, offers plenty of goodies to farmers, notably Big Agriculture, including hundreds of billions of dollars in commodity subsidies and crop insurance. The five-year bill also would weaken federal regulation of food safety.
But it omits support for food stamps, even though the hunger-fighting program has been a cornerstone of bipartisan farm bills going back 40 years. A chief sponsor of the House GOP legislation said the food-stamp program — which prevents 47 million low-income Americans, three-fourths of them children, elderly, or disabled, from going hungry — was “extraneous” to the bill.
The House bill has no chance of passing the Democratic-majority Senate, and even if it did, President Obama surely would veto it. Ordinarily, a House-Senate committee would be named to work out the differences between the two chambers’ farm bills and propose final compromise legislation.
But House Republicans threaten not to take part in a conference on the farm bill unless Senate Democrats agree in advance to a low ceiling on food stamp spending, now about $80 billion a year — slightly more than $4 per recipient per day. So much for the democratic (small-d) process, or even a willingness among lawmakers to do their jobs.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio said last week: “My goal right now is to get the farm bill passed. We’ll get to those other issues later.” But groups such as the American Farm Bureau Federation, the nation’s largest farm lobby, urged Congress not to divide the farm bill.
These groups understand that those “other issues” Mr. Boehner disdains — including the food stamp program — are necessary elements of the bill. Except, of course, to his caucus of extremists.
Which voters do House Republicans seek to impress and mobilize with their heartless, shred-the-safety-net approach? New York Times (and The Blade) economics columnist Paul Krugman notes that in Ohio, 65 percent of households that receive food stamps are white — a rate that exceeds the national average. Presumably, some members of these struggling families vote Republican, or at least used to.
Just as Republican lawmakers’ refusal to back immigration reform is costing them the support of the nation’s growing number of Hispanic voters, their extremism on the farm bill is placing them at odds with those whom Mr. Boehner incessantly calls “the American people.”
Maybe they just can’t help themselves. But voters, in Ohio and elsewhere, don’t have to acquiesce in their irresponsibility and cruelty.