Congress needs to act on Farm Bill

December 12, 2013 

Congress is expected to adjourn for the holidays without taking action on the one of its fundamental tasks: renewing the farm bill.

This shouldn’t be a difficult bill to pass. It sets that nation’s food and nutrition policy including food stamp funding and levels of crop subsidies. It’s usually renewed every five years.

But with the last renewal due to expire at the end of this year, Republicans in the U.S. House are holding up the bill at the urging of groups like Americans for Prosperity, the conservative advocacy group funded by David and Charles Koch. These groups want to use the bill to cut $39 billion from SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program previously known as food stamps. The Senate is willing to cut $4 billion, but that’s not enough for those who are willing to shred the safety net.

North Carolina has 1.6 million people who get that assistance, which is nothing short of vital to their survival.

North Carolina’s Sens. Richard Burr, a Republican, and Kay Hagan, a Democrat, voted in favor of the Senate farm bill. (The House is the holdup.)

But no less than Rep. George Holding of Raleigh is among those House members wanting to keep the $39 billion in cuts in the House bill. That’s an outrageous display of insensitivity to the needs of constituents, all in the name of following the arch conservative line of illogical.

Now there’s worry that a protracted standoff in January could play havoc with farmers who need to plan their crops. It could also cause milk prices to soar to $8 a gallon, a prospect that’s been dubbed “the dairy cliff.” The spike could occur because without a farm bill, the governing legislation would default to a 1949 law that would require much higher government price supports for dairy products. With government paying much more for dairy, regular buyers would have to match the price.

Congress wouldn’t let that happen, would it? Most observers think not, but that’s what most observers thought of the sequester being imposed of the government being shut down.

North Carolina benefits in a multitude of ways from the Farm Bill. There’s the SNAP money, but that’s only part of it. The state’s rural counties get money and programs to encourage economic development, something they desperately need. Farmers get crop insurance through the bill. Universities get research money to help in crop development.

It’s true most of the bill is about food assistance, but these other programs are vital for those who get help from them.

It’s estimated, a McClatchy news service report said, that 165,000 people in North Carolina, between the ages of 18 and 50, would be affected by cuts in the SNAP program. Again, Rep. Holding, that’s 165,000 people, some of them undoubtedly in your 13th district.

What are they supposed to do? Go hungry?

GOP members who want to cut the food assistance program seem not to realize they’re taking down a lot of hard-working Americans along with those poor families they seem to love to hit again and again.

Farmers, some of them running multi-generational businesses, learn to grow more and better crops through this bill. University professors with years of experience produce research that helps them do it.

But with great satisfaction, the most conservative and shortsighted members of the U.S. House proudly stand against all these hard-working people.

Don’t count on effective, reasonable leadership from the House’s senior members and leaders. Speaker John Boehner, who allowed his tea party extremists to take the country to the brink of default, clearly has lost control of his party caucus and can do little to stop irresponsible shenanigans such as this.

This is about people. It is about Americans. It is about those who grow our food. It is about the fundamental duty of government to serve the people. At least, that’s what responsible elected representatives and the people who elected them believe.

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