GOP's farm follies

It is a good thing America's farmers can better handle their produce and livestock than Speaker John A. Boehner can control his Republican majority in the House of Representatives, otherwise we would all be starving.

This time a group of radically conservative House Republicans have managed to block approval of the Farm Bill. These bills have traditionally had bipartisan support, with Republicans representing rural states eager to support farm programs and urban Democrats intent on providing adequate nutritional and food stamp support for the poor.

The Farm Bill had strong Senate backing. Speaker Boehner's dysfunctional GOP majority in the House is the problem.

Rep. Boehner, an Ohio Republican, wanted the Farm Bill passed and gave his ultra-conservative wing much of what it wanted. It cut nutrition and farm support programs by $40 billion over 10 years. Half of that would have resulted in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly called food stamps. The amended bill axed another $5 billion from programs designed to reduce environmental damage tied to food production.

Many of those that these food support programs help are working people with low salaries. The need for these programs is undeniable. But Speaker Boehner needed the votes of his extreme wing and played ball. He knew there was little Democratic support for this draconian package. Ultimately his concessions were not enough to win the votes of 62 Republicans who wanted even deeper cuts in nutritional programs.

Among those Democrats who voted in opposition was eastern Connecticut's Second District Congressman Joe Courtney. It was the right vote. A series of Republican amendments left the bill unpalatable. In addition to the deep cuts in nutrition spending, the bill intruded on the ability of individual states to mold agricultural standards to their special needs, critical for a state such as Connecticut where farming is a far different enterprise than in the large farm states. Also removed from the bill was a "dairy safety net" to protect small-scale dairy operations typical to Connecticut.

Republicans included an amendment authorizing states to conduct drug testing of people seeking food stamps, despite a lack of evidence suggesting people in need of these supports are more likely to use drugs than anyone else. Such a proposal is also impractical.

It may only get worse as the speaker tries to appease his maverick wing with even deeper cuts. It may fall to the Democrats, and ultimately President Obama, to protect these needed nutritional programs.

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