House tackles farm bill with usual political turmoil

If you think politics played a big part in the Senate version of the 2012 Farm Bill, strap yourself in for the rambunctious House version to unfold. In fact, as the publication, The Hill, blogged, the Farm Bill will be Speaker John Boehner’s “next big headache.”

The Hill said July 27, “The good news is the House Agriculture Committee approved its version of the 2012 farm bill. The bad news is the House Agriculture Committee approved its version of the 2012 farm bill.” These divergent headlines, said The Hill, show the range of reactions House Republicans had to the five-year food and ag legislation. The blog stated the bill should give Speaker Boehner, “if not the mother, then certainly the daughter of the mother of all headaches.”

Observers say Boehner’s caucus, mostly conservatives aligned with the Tea Party movement, are badly split on how to approach the bill. They are, according to The Hill, “prepared to fall on their sword” in order to force the more than $16 billion in cuts to food stamps now in the bill. The Senate version called for $4 billion in food stamp cuts. Fears are that the GOP wants to balance the federal budget on the backs of the nation’s poor and hungry children, many of whom rely heavily on food stamps and nutrition programs at school — provided by the farm bill.

But, despite the turmoil over food stamps, the House GOP wants as of this writing to pass a creditable version of the farm bill soon—to avoid the bad publicity seen if chaos takes over the process and delays renewal of critical commodity programs. These begin to expire after Sept. 30 and even Tea Partiers want to demonstrate that they can come to the aid of farmers whom The Hill describes as “threatened by a potentially devastating drought.”

It’s not only the back-and-forth of conservative politics, but the fact that House Republicans represent the Ying and Yang of America, urban and suburban districts versus more rural ones. The “burbs are less than enthused about commodity programs while also not happy with growth of food stamps. Voters there think of farmers as corporate giants operating at the expense of small producers, consumers, and taxpayers,” the Hill noted.

Even worse, said The Hill, the GOP is divided on a commodity-by-commodity basis. Those representing peanut, rice and cotton growers are at odds with those who support corn, soybean and wheat subsidies. The fight is important because, overall, farm subsidies have been cut severely in all versions of the farm bill. There are even GOP divisions on how dairy programs are viewed in the Midwest and the New England states.

All of this posturing would have less effect if, as The Hill said, the Democrats weren’t laying in wait to “capitalize on whatever course of action the Republicans take.” Democrats will accuse the Republicans of playing roulette with rural America.

Boehner could avoid this public display of a party in disarray by declining to bring the farm bill to the floor, but the cost would be, as The Hill noted, high. Continued uncertainty about commodity and disaster programs could tend to slow down the economies of rural area, and worse from a political point of view, threaten the re-election chances of GOP governors across the Midwest.

Ah, yes, the beat goes on — and on.

I’ll see ya.


An Iowa native, Peter Graham has been a rural newspaper editor for 39 years. He currently edits a twice-weekly paper in Western Iowa. You can contact him at (712) 642-2791 or [email protected]