America has a farm bill. Ending years of debate and haggling, lawmakers in Washington have fashioned a piece of legislation that found enough bipartisan support to pass both chambers. President Barack Obama is slated to sign the bill into law today.
Members of both extremes of the political spectrum took issue with the nearly $100 billion-a-year measure, and even those who favored it admitted it wasn't perfect -- which indicates it is probably good legislation. There were 62 senators and 251 representatives supporting the compromise bill.
"While there are certainly programs or titles for which Kansas Farm Bureau might have selected a different path, the uncertainty and unpredictability surrounding farm programs has become extremely burdensome for our farmers and ranchers and has begun to impede everyday business opportunities," said Kansas Farm Bureau President Steve Baccus. "This bill gives Kansas farmers and ranchers the certainty they need."
The actual agricultural component of the farm bill constitutes roughly only 20 percent, as the vast majority of funding goes to the federal food stamp program.
Amongst ag interests, though, there was something for everyone. Midwestern row-crop farmers who lost direct payments now can choose between subsidies that either pay out when revenue drops or when prices drop. Rice and peanut farmers down south received higher subsidies. Western land-owners will get bigger land payments. Cotton and dairy supports were changed to pay out whenever losses occurred. Multiple smaller programs, subsidies, loans and grants will assist anything from local farmers markets to food deserts to organic agriculture.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program known as SNAP will be reduced by $800 million annually. Because of the recession that still hasn't ended for the lower class, food stamps have shot up to $80 billion a year. Nearly 1 in 7 Americans receive SNAP benefits as poverty has claimed an ever larger percentage of the population. Liberals and conservatives alike find the decrease troubling, although for opposite reasons. The left thought the cuts were too much; the right believed they weren't big enough.
We would offer that any efforts to reduce the size of the food stamp program should be concentrated on putting people back to work, not merely by taking away their primary source of nutrition. As more of the middle class is pushed downward because their good-paying manufacturing jobs disappeared overseas and the part-time service sector position doesn't come close to maintaining anything resembling a comfortable lifestyle, these people do not need a double dose of capitalist punishment.
Not everybody sees it that way, of course, including our own Big First representative who voted against the bill.
"The program is in desperate need of reform, and yet this bill makes only nominal changes," said Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan. "Instead of status quo in this the fastest growing welfare program in the entire government, we should have taken the opportunity to provide meaningful work reform requirements, especially for able-bodied adults."
Huelskamp also didn't think it made sense to replace direct payments with two programs he believes will cost more.
So, in the end, the congressman didn't perceive overall value either for farmers or poor people. We would remind Rep. Huelskamp his district is loaded with both -- and they should take precedence over his preoccupation with eliminating red tape and bureaucracy.
Action was needed and, for a change, action was delivered by a divided Congress. We applaud the commitment to passing the overdue farm bill.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry