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FARM FILE, A COLUMN BY ALAN GUEBERT

Delay on Farm Bill: What was that about?

Saturday, January 25, 2014 - 12:01 am

According to most Capitol Hill sources, the once-2012, then-2013 and now-2014 Farm Bill should clear its final hurdle before the end of January so Congress – after three years of ugly fighting – finally can approve a new farm law.

The failure to get a farm law before the old one expired in 2012 was tied to the presidential election that year. The rump caucus of House Republicans wanted to deny the Obama White House any legislative achievement to crow about during its re-election campaign. And, it did. So a minority of the House majority sidetracked the Farm Bill and forced the nation to wait another year.

The 2013 fight centered on how deeply Congress would cut SNAP, the nation's biggest food assistance program, that had ballooned from 28.2 million recipients and $34.6 billion in 2008 to 46.6 million recipients and $74.6 billion in 2012.

The Senate and House both agreed on multibillion-dollar cuts to, in part, finance an expansion of farmer-favored crop insurance. The Senate thought $8 billion would do; the House wanted $40 billion and it voted to strip SNAP from the Farm Bill as proof of its seriousness.

Today, however, the about-to-be-approved 2014 bill not only folds SNAP back into the Farm Bill, the House's $40 billion cut itself was cut to less than $10 billion.

So what was that year really all about?

Was it an impressive show of muscle by the tea party wing of a split Republican House majority, or was it a display of collective ag group weakness to stay out of the SNAP budget fight in order to finance fatter government insurance schemes?

Whatever the reason, most major farm and commodity organizations – excluding the National Farmers Union – stared at their belly buttons when asked to take a stand against House cuts to not feed Americans even as they continued to lobby hard for more government subsidies to “feed the world.”

In the end, the restoration of SNAP to the Farm Bill and the likelihood of just $9 billion in SNAP cuts shows more about the political reality of Farm Bills than the Congressional partisanship and farm group wimpmanship that goes into 'em.

According to the Nov. 29 Wall Street Journal, (view the story at http://farmandfoodfile.com/in-the-news) seven of the top 10 states with the highest percentage of food stamp recipients (in descending order: Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana, Kentucky, Georgia, Alabama and West Virginia) “are some of the reddest states on the electoral map. Eleven of their 14 senators are Republican and their House delegations are all Republican.”

So, what was this delay about if Barack Obama was easily re-elected president and one out of five citizens in the most solidly Republican states “on the electoral map” are the biggest beneficiaries of SNAP?

Why did it take so long?

The biggest reason is that Congress no longer resembles America. A mid-November Gallup poll found that only 9 percent of all Americans approved of “the way Congress did its job.”

Nine percent. What do those folks see that you and I don't?

Alan Guebert's Farm File appears Saturdays. Contact him at agcomm@ farmandfoodfile.com. or Alan Guebert, 21673 Lago Drive, Delavan, IL 61734. His website is www.farmandfoodfile.com.