Mean Food Policies
By Mike Jopek on July 10, 2013
© Flathead Beacon
Congress returned to work fresh from its second weeklong recess since the Senate acted on the national Farm Bill. Next month Congress begins a five-week summer recess.
The Senate moved the massive farm policy with big bipartisan support. The House for the second time in two years failed to pass a five-year Farm Bill.
Rep. Steve Daines voted for the House Farm Bill, but supported leadership’s two poison pill amendments that ultimately killed the bill. He later lamented, “Doing nothing is worse than doing something.”
President Barack Obama promised to veto the House Farm Bill, preferring the Senate version that somewhat reformed crop insurance and allocated nutrition money to feed hungry families.
Since 1970 the Farm Bill has included food for hungry families as compromise policy for the billions of dollars allocated to some GMO, organic and traditional growers seeking to remove climate risk from farming. But food aid was part of the original effort in the 1930s bill.
In Montana alone federal food stamps supplement meals for 129,000 families, including 54,000 children and 9,000 seniors.
Daines voted for two failed amendments. One repealed the Farmers Market and Local Food funding. The other cut another $11 billion from nutrition and food programs.
The House speaker whipped a floor amendment to redesign milk price support for dairy producers. Daines voted for the milk amendment that favored corporate milk producers over cooperatives.
Daines supported the House majority leader’s push for federal welfare work requirements for food stamp recipients. That wedge broke any sense of bipartisanship.
All but one of the 62 House Republicans who voted against the failed Farm Bill moments earlier supported the poison pill work requirement. Even if workers cannot find work during high unemployment, access to food would be cut off.
Revealing just how conservative the House has become, six of the Republicans’ committee chairmen voted against the Farm Bill.
The House majority leader now proposes culling all food stamps from the Farm Bill. Rev. David Beckmann, the president of Bread for the World, said, “The meanness of the House Farm Bill toward hungry people is one reason why it didn’t pass.”
In the 2007 Montana House, Republicans faced an ideological divide within their caucus. House leadership split the state’s unified budget into bite-size morsels, since the far-right Republicans would not support health and human services funding in Montana.
Republicans proposed allocating $400 in a traditionally billion-dollar health budget. The concept failed miserably. That style of harsh politics cemented the regular session’s failure in not passing a budget for the first time in Montana’s history.
Days later, former Gov. Brian Schweitzer worked with embarrassed moderate Republicans and a conservative budget easily passed in an extended Legislature.
Daines supported the House leadership’s harsh floor amendments that killed the Farm Bill. If the House follows through on the scheme to cut all food stamps from the Farm Bill, it is doomed to repeat another failure either in conference negotiations with the Senate or Obama’s veto.
America is better served by today’s Senate-style cooperative approach to fixing problems facing Montanans. A food-centric Farm Bill serves both farmers and families.
Republican Rep. Tom Cole called segregating nutrition programs from the Farm Bill, “political malpractice.” Montana will soon know if the House has the political stomach to break the food and farm alliance that has served Americans for 40-plus years.
The House may lose its appetite to deny food to people who are seeking but cannot find work, and simply extend current farm law or pass the Senate version of the Farm Bill. As the National Farmers Union president said, “If you are really serious about getting a Farm Bill done, then you need to do it on a bipartisan basis.”