The blame for out-of-control federal spending belongs mostly on logrolling, the practice of congressmen trading positions on controversial issues to pass a bill. Sometimes it doesn’t work. The farm bill crashed Thursday in the House by 195 votes for, 234 against.
Democrats didn’t like the reductions of food stamps program and conservative Republicans didn’t like continuing crop subsidies that go primarily to big business. The unwieldy 629-page package just didn’t give away enough favors to attract a majority.
The House version of the 10-year bill carried a price tag of $940 billion, nearly $744 billion of which would have gone to food stamps and related programs, according to the Congressional Research Service. Earlier this month, the Senate passed a 1,150-page bill that lavished an extra $15 billion for food stamps.
Other than the fact that farmers grow food, it doesn’t make sense to have food stamps and related welfare programs lumped in with, for example, dairy subsidies. Rep. Marlin Stutzman, Indiana Republican and a fourth-generation farmer, tried unsuccessfully to sever the two components into separate bills, where each could get the legislative scrutiny it deserves.
Mr. Stutzman made his case to the House Rules Committee on Tuesday. “The American people deserve an open and honest debate about farm and nutrition policy in this country,” said the congressman. “The only way that will happen is if we separate farm policy from nutrition policy.”
The panel decided not to let the House vote whether to divide the bill, as the pairing of the farm and food stamp bills was thought to be the key to final passage. Republicans from rural districts would vote for the farm subsidies to benefit their constituents, and liberal Democrats would vote for more food stamps. Logrolling requires maintaining spending high to keep both sides happy, which is a very bad thing for the taxpayers who pay for the compromise, usually through the nose.
The farm bill did have mild food-stamp reform, which Rep. Keith Ellison, Minnesota Democrat and co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, naturally called “cruel.” Only two-dozen Democrats ended up voting for the bill; the rest complained that the program isn’t growing fast enough. Food stamps went to 26.3 million Americans in 2007; last year, this figure grew to 46.6 million. The cost of those stamps ballooned from $30.4 billion to $74.6 billion annually, a compound annual growth rate of 20 percent, as measured by the Department of Agriculture. Sixty-two Republicans voted against the bill, many arguing the “cuts” were too small.
“With our nation nearly $17 trillion in debt,” Farmer (and Congressman) Stutzman said, “the American people deserve an open, transparent debate, and that can only happen when Washington stops playing games with deceptively named spending bills.”
The failure of the farm-bill charade, even if a temporary setback for the big spenders, is encouraging. Some 62 Republicans were willing to buck their leadership and reject business as usual, which must change. House leaders can start by coming back with two bills to be considered individually on their own merits.
The Washington Times