NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

House Republicans achieve Pyrrhic victory with passage of unconscionable farm bill

Repub­li­cans in the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives achieved a Pyrrhic vic­to­ry ear­li­er today with the pas­sage of an uncon­scionable, cru­el farm bill that they man­aged to pass with only a hand­ful of votes to spare after hours of acri­mo­nious debate.

The Repub­li­can-backed pro­pos­al, which passed with­out a sin­gle Demo­c­ra­t­ic vote, pro­vides around $195 bil­lion in sub­si­dies to agribusi­ness over the next ten years, sim­i­lar to what leg­is­la­tion already approved by the Sen­ate calls for. But it does not con­tin­ue fund­ing for the Sup­ple­men­tal Nutri­tion Assis­tance Pro­gram, or SNAP, which is the pub­lic ser­vice that pro­vides food stamps to low income fam­i­lies.

SNAP sim­ply isn’t in the bill. At all.

Years ago, we would prob­a­bly have called this vote out­ra­geous. But, sad­ly, it’s what we’ve come to expect from a House Repub­li­can cau­cus that is dom­i­nat­ed by extreme, far-right, rad­i­cal extrem­ists who delight in tak­ing a wreck­ing ball to vital pub­lic ser­vices. Twelve Repub­li­cans could not bring them­selves to vote for the bill that Repub­li­can “lead­er­ship” put on the floor, and joined all of the House Democ­rats present in vot­ing against it. The final vote was 216–208.

The roll call from the Pacif­ic North­west was strict­ly along par­ty lines.

Vot­ing Aye: Repub­li­cans Jaime Her­rera-Beut­ler, Doc Hast­ings, Cathy McMor­ris Rodgers, Dave Reichert (WA); Greg Walden (OR); Steve Daines (MT); Don Young (AK); Raúl Labrador and Mike Simp­son (ID)

Vot­ing Nay: Democ­rats Suzan Del­Bene, Rick Larsen, Derek Kilmer, Jim McDer­mott, and Den­ny Heck (WA); Suzanne Bonam­i­ci, Earl Blu­me­nauer, Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrad­er (OR)

Not Vot­ing: Demo­c­rat Adam Smith (WA)

It would be an under­state­ment to say that the pro­ceed­ings that led up to the vote on the bill were heat­ed. They were down­right bit­ter.

Democ­rats repeat­ed­ly denounced the exclu­sion of SNAP from the bill, not­ing that nutri­tion­al assis­tance for Amer­i­ca’s impov­er­ished fam­i­lies has always been part of what has become com­mon­ly known as the “farm bill”.

Democ­rats also repeat­ed­ly used par­lia­men­tary maneu­vers and delay­ing tac­tics to slow con­sid­er­a­tion of the bill down, frus­trat­ing House Repub­li­cans.

In the end, the bill was approved, but its nar­row pas­sage is a Pyrrhic vic­to­ry for John Boehn­er, Eric Can­tor, Kevin McCarthy and House Repub­li­cans.

Con­ser­v­a­tive advo­ca­cy groups like the Club for Growth don’t like the Repub­li­cans’ Fed­er­al Agri­cul­ture Reform and Risk Man­age­ment Act because it makes a num­ber of sub­si­dies per­ma­nent and sends even more mon­ey to agribusi­ness than the Sen­ate’s farm bill. As one con­ser­v­a­tive group (Tax­pay­ers for Com­mon Sense) sees it:

With a $16.8 tril­lion nation­al debt, our coun­try sim­ply can­not afford to con­tin­ue send­ing checks to agribusi­ness­es regard­less of the state of the farm econ­o­my, crop prices, or whether or not pro­duc­ers even need or want gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies. H.R. 2642 would spend $1 bil­lion more than com­pa­ra­ble sec­tions in the Sen­ate-passed bill, increase FY14 spend­ing by $1.34 bil­lion above the cur­rent base­line, and only save $3.9 bil­lion over the life of the actu­al bill (FY14-18) with the rest ($9 bil­lion) occur­ring after this farm bill expires in FY18. In addi­tion, it would spend dras­ti­cal­ly more than either the com­pa­ra­ble por­tions of the President’s FY14 bud­get request or Rep. Paul Ryan’s FY14 bud­get (which called for $38 bil­lion and $31 bil­lion in sav­ings, respec­tive­ly). A Con­gres­sion­al Bud­get Office score hasn’t even been post­ed yet.

Pro­gres­sive advo­ca­cy groups like NPI, mean­while, strong­ly oppose H.R. 2642 because it would inflict a tremen­dous amount of harm and accom­plish almost noth­ing pos­i­tive for Amer­i­ca’s fam­i­lies and farm­ers.

House Repub­li­cans may think they’ve pleased their base by pass­ing a bill that does away with SNAP. But if the state­ments issued by the likes of the Club for Growth are any indi­ca­tion, they failed to even accom­plish that. All they have suc­ceed­ed in doing is pass­ing a trav­es­ty of a bill that even they know will nev­er get to Pres­i­dent Oba­ma’s desk or win a sin­gle Demo­c­ra­t­ic vote in the U.S. Sen­ate.

H.R. 2642 “is not a real farm bill and is an insult to rur­al Amer­i­ca,” Michi­gan Sen­a­tor Deb­bie Stabenow declared in the wake of the vote. Stabenow chairs the Sen­ate’s Agri­cul­ture Com­mit­tee and will like­ly lead Sen­ate Democ­rats’ nego­ti­at­ing team when the House and Sen­ate’s duel­ing farm bills go to con­fer­ence.

The White House, for its part, made it abun­dant­ly clear last night that Pres­i­dent Oba­ma con­sid­ers the bill unac­cept­able and would veto it if it reached him.

The Admin­is­tra­tion strong­ly oppos­es H.R. 2642, the Fed­er­al Agri­cul­ture Reform and Risk Man­age­ment Act of 2013. Because the 608 page bill was made avail­able only this evening, the Admin­is­tra­tion has had inad­e­quate time to ful­ly review the text of the bill. It is appar­ent, though, that the bill does not con­tain suf­fi­cient com­mod­i­ty and crop insur­ance reforms and does not invest in renew­able ener­gy, an impor­tant source of jobs and eco­nom­ic growth in rur­al com­mu­ni­ties across the coun­try. Leg­is­la­tion as impor­tant as a Farm Bill should be con­struct­ed in a com­pre­hen­sive approach that helps strength­en all aspects of the Nation. This bill also fails to reau­tho­rize nutri­tion pro­grams, which ben­e­fit mil­lions of Amer­i­cans — in rur­al, sub­ur­ban and urban areas alike. The Sup­ple­men­tal Nutri­tion Assis­tance Pro­gram is a cor­ner­stone of our Nation’s food assis­tance safe­ty net, and should not be left behind as the rest of the Farm Bill advances.

If the Pres­i­dent were pre­sent­ed with H.R. 2642, his senior advi­sors would rec­om­mend that he veto the bill.

U.S. Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Suzan Del­Bene, who rep­re­sents NPI’s home con­gres­sion­al dis­trict, spoke against H.R. 2642 on the floor of the House pri­or to its pas­sage, decry­ing its pro­vi­sions. Her brief remarks were as fol­lows (watch them here).

Mr. Speak­er, I rise with great dis­ap­point­ment today. It’s a shame that the House has allowed the Farm Bill to get to this point.

We should be vot­ing on the bipar­ti­san bill the Agri­cul­ture Com­mit­tee passed and I sup­port­ed. Not this bill, which has been hijacked by divi­sive pol­i­tics and is sim­ply not good enough.

It’s not good enough for our farm­ers, because reforms that would have pro­tect­ed Washington’s dairy farm­ers and con­sumers have been stripped out.

It’s cer­tain­ly not good enough for the mil­lions of work­ing fam­i­lies, seniors and chil­dren who count on nutri­tion pro­grams and have been exclud­ed from this bill.

And it’s not good enough for the coun­try.

Our con­stituents sent us here to work across the aisle to deliv­er results. This bill is cer­tain­ly not what they had in mind. While I appre­ci­ate that fund­ing for spe­cial­ty crops, which I fought hard for, is in this bill, this is the wrong way to con­duct agri­cul­ture pol­i­cy for the future.

Our country’s farm­ers and fam­i­lies deserve a Farm Bill that works for every­one. Instead, they’ve been giv­en this. I am incred­i­bly dis­ap­point­ed today, and join my col­leagues in vot­ing against this bill.

Advo­cates for end­ing child hunger were also sharply crit­i­cal of the bill. Last month, Share our Strength­’s Bil­ly Shore released a lengthy state­ment explain­ing why the Sup­ple­men­tal Nutri­tion Assis­tance pro­gram is so impor­tant.

It’s cru­cial that fam­i­lies have the tools that help their SNAP ben­e­fits last longer and are used in a healthy way. SNAP Ed—which faces sig­nif­i­cant cuts in this leg­is­la­tion— pro­vides fam­i­lies skills that help them to use their ben­e­fits wise­ly. And these impor­tant nutri­tion skills last a life­time; although most peo­ple rely on SNAP ben­e­fits for less than 10 months, the skills learned through SNAP Ed help them to make edu­cat­ed deci­sions and stay healthy even after they no longer rely on SNAP ben­e­fits. We should be invest­ing more in pro­grams like SNAP Ed, not cut­ting fund­ing for them.

SNAP works. At a time when our nation is focused on major issues like strength­en­ing our edu­ca­tion sys­tem, fix­ing health care and grow­ing a more pro­duc­tive work­force, cuts to SNAP are short-sight­ed and wrong.

Empha­sis is theirs.

Sad­ly, it’s evi­dent that feed­ing the hun­gry, car­ing for the sick, and cloth­ing the naked is not a pri­or­i­ty for House Repub­li­cans. Most, if not all of them, prob­a­bly con­sid­er them­selves Chris­t­ian. But we can’t think of any­thing more un-Chris­t­ian than back­ing a bill that pro­vides bil­lions of dol­lars for Big Ag, but does­n’t help Amer­i­ca’s impov­er­ished fam­i­lies by con­tin­u­ing fund­ing for SNAP.

In the Book of Matthew, Jesus talks to his dis­ci­ples about the Day of Judg­ment, and describes how the peo­ple are to be judged. He explains:

When the Son of Man comes in his glo­ry, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glo­ri­ous throne, and all the nations will be assem­bled before him. And he will sep­a­rate them one from anoth­er, as a shep­herd sep­a­rates the sheep from the goats.

He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Then the king will say to those on his right:

“Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inher­it the king­dom pre­pared for you from the foun­da­tion of the world. For I was hun­gry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you wel­comed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you vis­it­ed me.”

Then the right­eous will answer him and say, “Lord, when did we see you hun­gry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and wel­come you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and vis­it you?” And the king will say to them in reply, “Amen, I say to you, what­ev­er you did for one of these least broth­ers of mine, you did for me.”

- Matthew 25:31–40

And sig­nif­i­cant­ly, the only mir­a­cle of Jesus that is recount­ed in all four Gospels (aside from the Res­ur­rec­tion) is the feed­ing of the crowd of five thou­sand with a few loaves of bread and some fish. It’s pret­ty evi­dent from Scrip­ture that feed­ing the hun­gry was a major part of Jesus’ min­istry dur­ing his time on Earth.

If the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca is indeed a Chris­t­ian nation, as we have heard con­ser­v­a­tive Repub­li­cans often claim, then should­n’t our gov­ern­men­t’s poli­cies reflect the teach­ings of Jesus? That is what it means to be a Chris­t­ian: to accept the teach­ings of Jesus. Jesus’ mes­sage about feed­ing the hun­gry comes across pret­ty clear­ly to me and to oth­er pro­gres­sive Chris­tians.

It’s very unfor­tu­nate, though sad­ly not sur­pris­ing, that all of the con­ser­v­a­tives in the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives who call them­selves Chris­t­ian felt that it was appro­pri­ate to sup­port leg­is­la­tion that did away with SNAP alto­geth­er in the hopes of exact­ing more cuts from food aid in the final ver­sion of the farm bill.

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