Farm Bill fiasco shows House not working

When the House Republicans blocked a Senate-passed farm bill in June, the Republican majority was going after food stamp recipients but ended up hurting farmers instead. Also in line to be hurt by this dysfunctional House are consumers, which is another way of saying the rest of us.

Food stamps, known formally as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is an entitlement program, which means it will continue to function at current levels despite congressional inaction, but farm subsidies have to be renewed. The food stamps won't be increased or reduced, but they'll stay; the farm subsidies will go.

So, by using alleged food stamp abuses as an excuse, 60 or so radical, Tea Party Republicans in Congress have ended up causing a lot of collateral damage in a vindictive, but futile, attack on poor people.

Dairy farmers in Connecticut and across the country have already lost their milk subsidy. It ran out last Sunday, a month before all other farm subsidies are set to expire. Next will come the much larger subsidies for farmers who grow everything from wheat and corn to soy beans and cranberries.

In the past, a farm bill was routinely passed every five years because it served the interests of urban lawmakers, mostly Democrats concerned about nutrition spending for the poor and rural Republicans focused on farm programs. But that was before the addition of those radical House members who saw the farm bill as more of a welfare plan providing food stamps and other benefits "on the backs of farmers," as one of them put it. They were more intent on shrinking the size of government and if they hurt a few fellow Republican farmers in the process, so be it.

The House debate was a festival of outrageous amendments, like requiring food stamp recipients to have drug tests without evidence drug use was a major problem among the families of stamp users. Congressman Steven King of Iowa used the debate to rail against tattoo parlors that accepted food stamps, though there was no evidence of their existence.

But as it turned out, the food stamps will continue, just the milk money and the wheat money and the corn money will stop. Someone might want to ask Congressman King about that.

A well rested Congress returns on Monday after a long Labor Day hiatus and it has scheduled nine rigorous legislative days between Monday and Oct. 1.

Reconsideration of the farm bill will be among the House's unfinished business but those nine days had been expected to be devoted to debating debt ceiling legislation. If the debt ceiling is not extended, usually another routine matter, government funding runs out and the government has to shut down for the new fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. That battle alone was expected to fully occupy the nine days, given the avowed intention of some House Republicans to block funding needed to implement Obamacare, even it takes shutting down government.

But then came Syria.

Some members have expressed the hope that concentration on Syria will still allow Congress to deal with the debt in the remaining days of September, but probably not the farm bill.

"Congress should be able to multi-task," one House member told The New York Times. But multi-tasking would be likely to include no more than action on Syria and maybe the debt. It would be a miracle if it extended to the farm bill and other pending legislation in a Congress that has proven incapable of even single-tasking.

Connecticut's billion dollar dairy industry employs between 2,400 and 4,200 farm workers. It's part of the fabric of the state. But it needs the five-year subsidies to provide a measure of stability to counter the dramatic ups and downs of milk prices. But why should helping farmers, assuring stability for an industry that feeds the nation, and keeping milk prices affordable for families take precedent over trying, again, to kill Obamacare?

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