Our Voice: Farm bill may be sign of a functioning Congress

February 3, 2014 

We could have a farm bill today (Tuesday).

It has been years in the making. Fighting between Republicans and Democrats over what should stay and what should go from the always controversial farm bill resulted in years of delays and discord.

The U.S. House of Representatives finally passed a version of the bill last week, and the Senate is expected to vote as soon as today. President Obama has already said he would sign the bill as passed by the House.

What does that mean for farmers, especially those in the Mid-Columbia?

It means some changes, for sure. But it also provides a stability that has been lacking as the contents of the bill have been debated. Farmers will at least know what to expect and can adapt accordingly to the five-year bill.

We're glad to see Republicans and Democrats finally learning the fine art of compromise. First they passed a budget, and now it looks like a farm bill is forthcoming.

One of the biggest controversies in the farm bill concerned food stamps. Republicans were pushing for big cuts while Democrats were not. The House bill cuts $800 million per year out of the annual $80 billion program. That's about 1 percent, down from a proposed 5 percent.

One Republican from Oklahoma went as far as to call the House's passage of the bill a "miracle." After all, it took almost three years of failed attempts to make it reality.

What some will like to hear is that it would, in essence, continue to provide big subsidies to major crop categories. However, those subsidies will not be passed on in the traditional manner of direct payments. They'll instead be in the form of insurance programs that should be easier for the government to defend to opponents of subsidies.

To get to this point, the members of the ag committee had to find ways to put a little something for every region of the country in the bill -- crop insurance increases to appease the Midwest; increased subsidies for peanuts and rice in the South; renewed federal land payments in the West; preservation of a catfish program that made Mississippians happy, and letting California keep its controversial egg law that requires bigger cage sizes for hens laying eggs sold in that state.

The House and Senate already have worked together to get the bill to this point, spending weeks working out their differences in advance of the votes in an effort to get it done this time. Many expect the Senate to quickly approve the bill, though in the political arena nothing is assured.

At almost $100 billion per year, the farm bill is still not to the liking of everyone. The House vote was 251-166. Conservatives still don't like it, but more Democrats voted for it because of the smaller cuts to food stamps.

The cuts that were put into the bill only ended up amounting to about $1.65 billion annually, which is quite small by federal budget standards.

The farm bill may not be perfect, but just getting one passed with all sides making compromises is a victory for the political process.

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