Congress must rethink farm bill
Critics who have been beating up the House of Representatives for its failure over the last two years to pass a farm bill are now howling after the Republican majority approved legislation that included agriculture commodity and conservation programs but none of the nutrition programs that account for 80 percent of the Department of Agriculture's budget.
House majority leaders decided to leave farm programs in the farm bill and take up assorted government nutrition programs in a separate measure.
We think separating the two makes a lot of sense.
Farm lobbyists say it's vital that food stamps and other nutrition programs remain under the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture and part of the farm bill. They say the only way to get the farm programs rural, mostly Republican legislators want is to connect them with food stamps and other welfare programs urban, mostly Democrat legislators want.
Senate Democrats say they won't pass a farm bill that doesn't include nutrition programs, and President Barack Obama has said he would veto it if they did. That suggests it's the nutrition programs that need the farm bill.
The intense debate over the cost of nutrition programs has been what's kept Congress from passing a new farm bill since work began on the measure in 2011.
The Senate passed a multiyear farm bill in 2012. A companion measure was passed by the House Ag Committee, but failed to reach the full chamber because of disputes over the cost of nutrition programs.
The Senate passed another bill this spring. House leaders brought a bill to the floor that fell by a bipartisan vote.
As passed by the House Ag Committee, the bill reduced spending on these programs by $2 billion. Conservatives wanted deeper cuts, liberals wanted something closer to the $400 million in cuts passed by the Senate.
Einstein is credited with saying that doing something over and over again while expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity. It also defines Congress. But, to paraphrase Mark Twain, we repeat ourselves.
Congress and the administration have come up with so many bad ideas that we don't expect either to recognize a good one when it comes along.
Which brings us to another worthwhile proposal that is being discounted by the congressional and ag lobby establishments.
Because the 2008 Farm Bill expired before a replacement was passed, Congress was forced to enact an extension. Otherwise, farm policy would revert to "permanent" legislation passed in the 1930s and '40s -- measures so antiquated that they would throw modern agriculture into chaos.
The establishment says the only way to get Congress to pass new and better farm bills is to make the old ones expire with dire consequences.
Does self-imposed extortion really produce better legislation?
We agree with those who think it does not and who have proposed making whatever farm bill is passed permanent until amended by subsequent legislation.
The established thinking on the farm bill isn't getting anywhere. We think these proposals are at least worth a try.