After more than three years of wrangling, a new farm bill has been passed by Congress and signed by President Obama.
We don’t think its substance is equal to the effort it took to pass the legislation. Certainly the years of squabbling over the measure didn’t improve the thing.
Remember the heady days back in the spring of 2011 when the chairmen of both the House and Senate ag committees vowed they’d finish the bill before the fall and the start of the 2012 presidential primary season? The two panels seemed to be in open competition to see who could pass it first.
It was not to be. Along came the budget sequestration measure and arguments over spending on the bill. At issue: The cost of nutrition programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, variously known as food stamps and by the acronym SNAP, and direct commodity payments.
The primary season came and went with no farm bill as debate continued over the cost of nutrition programs and direct commodity payments and crop insurance.
In October 2012 the expired bill was extended, and the general election came and went with no new farm bill. By this time most factions, except cotton and peanut interests, had agreed to replace direct payments with a risk-management scheme. The cost of nutrition programs remained a sticking point.
The expired bill was extended again and fought over endlessly. It expired again on Sept. 30, 2013 without a replacement. While there were still some questions about dairy policy and the details of the commodity title, the major sticking point was still the cost of nutrition programs.
All the while we were constantly assured that including nutrition programs — food stamps, school lunches, WIC, etc. — in the farm bill is essential to attract the interest of urban legislators. Without that component, the insiders say, there would be no incentive to pass a farm bill.
Well, we can’t deny that the farm bill has attracted a lot of interest from urban legislators. It’s taken up a lot of time.
We admit we’re not skilled in the ways of Washington. But, we’re not convinced all this time and effort has yielded anything in actual farm policy that couldn’t have been negotiated separately two years ago.