A new farm bill that preserves the food stamp program, as well as many subsidies for American farmers, is before the Senate and on its way to President Obama’s desk. It is not a great or even a very good bill, but it is about the best bipartisan compromise that can be expected of this Congress. On that basis, it should become law.
The measure is expected to save almost $17 billion over 10 years. Across-the-aisle agreement is rarely seen anymore among polarized lawmakers.
The measure is long overdue. After more than two years of squabbling, Congress passed a bill that will not affect, as badly as had been feared, most of the millions of poor people who rely on nutritional programs such as food stamps.
The program that helps feed the needy should not have been cut at all. But Republican lawmakers, who wanted more severe cuts, deserve credit for their willingness to make only a modest trim. The bill’s $800 million annual reduction in food stamps amounts to a 1 percent bite out of the program. It could have been much worse.
Lawmakers also compromised on farm subsidies that, if eliminated, could have crippled rural America. The bill appropriately allows continued subsidies for growers of major crops. Farmers who produce corn, wheat, soybeans, and rice will still be heavily subsidized.
Some farmers will lose direct government payments based on the acreage of farmland they own, regardless of the condition of their crops. But stronger crop insurance should offer sufficient and affordable protection against losses. Farmers should not be provided billions of dollars in support during good growing years as well as bad.
The bill cut some programs that encourage environmental protection. At the same time, conservation programs that protect grasslands and wetlands were overhauled. Conservation and forestry proponents celebrated those changes.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.), who chairs the Senate agriculture committee, acknowledged the lengthy negotiations over the bill. But she also celebrated the ability of Congress to compromise. “I’m proud that we together — House and Senate, Republicans and Democrats — can show that this is how government is supposed to work,” she said.
This farm bill will not satisfy everyone, but it is doubtful that major improvements or changes would be accepted if lawmakers were to go back to the drawing board. It is unfortunate that there is so little hope in their ability to work together that Americans have adopted a take-what-we-can-get attitude. These days, though, any bipartisan compromise is to be celebrated.