After all the ink that's been spilled lamenting congressional dysfunction in the last couple of years, the impending passage of the $956 billion farm bill has us yearning for those halcyon days of gridlock.
Last week, the U.S. House, in a bipartisan vote, passed the legislation that will set much of the nation's food and farm policy for the next five years. The bill is expected to pass the Senate and be signed by President Barack Obama.
To be sure, the complicated legislation has some good qualities.
First of all, nobody read the 959-page bill, just like nobody read the 1,500-page spending bill passed with a Republican majority earlier last month. Yes, we count this as a good thing, because finally, the old Obamacare canard about having time to read the bill can be put to rest. Let's face it, the only people who read the bills are the staffers and wonks who are paid to do it. Can we finally put an end to this loser's argument, please?
Second, the bill gets rid of the wasteful practice of paying certain farmers, many of them wealthy, direct subsidies in good times and bad. It ties some new farm subsidies to important environmental protections. And it protects the very important Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) from further harm for a few years.
But about those food stamps.
The farm bill cuts $8 billion out of a program that more and more Americans rely on in a changing economy to feed their families.
That travesty alone should convince both Sens. Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill of Missouri to vote no and Mr. Obama to veto the bill.
If it becomes law, 850,000 American households will have to eat on about $90 less per month. Why? Either greed or just plain meanness.
Mr. Blunt, a Republican, and Ms. McCaskill, a Democrat, should be especially outraged. The Department of Agriculture's annual report on food insecurity found that the Show-Me State ranks second-worst in the nation in the percentage of residents who faced severe hunger in the last year. Over the past decade, Missouri has had more people, per capita, falling into hunger than any other state.
Cutting food stamps now, even in a compromise bill that isn't as bad as it could have been, would be a travesty.
Keep in mind, "compromise" doesn't mean cutting everywhere equally. While some farmers lost their direct payments, they got in its place a generous crop insurance incentive that some estimates show will eventually pay them more than they were reaping from the old subsidies. Big corporate farms win. Small farmers lose. This is the congressional way: The rich get richer and the poor get food yanked from their mouths.
Our friends at the New York Times suggest that since this horrendous bill isn't as bad as it could have been, it's not worth rolling the dice that the next Congress won't make it worse.
We think the opposite. People are waking up to the realities of income inequality. Business people. Regular folks. Economists. The political class. The president has called income inequality the "defining challenge of our time." Vetoing the farm bill would back up those words.
America's divide between the haves and have nots has reached epic proportions. Saying no to this farm bill would help, if only slightly, swing the pendulum back toward fundamental fairness.
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