What gives with all the delays in the Farm Bill? Apparently there is a cabal in the House of Representatives, mainly consisting of mutant Republicans who are identified with the Tea Party that seem plenty incensed over the fact that about 47 million Americans are using food stamps these days. They're so mad about this that they want to strip food stamps away from the Farm Bill that's been under review for the past couple of years. They want to separate it out so that the program can be politically manhandled and stripped of $40 billion of funding over the next decade. The resulting legislative standoff has been an irritant within the country's ag community for a couple of years now, a problem that has suddenly grown acute for the ranching industry in western South Dakota, which needs disaster assistance provisions in the Farm Bill right now, considering the mega-damage that was done during the early October blizzard.
The mystifying aspect of all this to me is just why people are so mad or surprised about the surge in food stamp usage these days. The U.S. Census Bureau calculates that nearly 50 million Americans are living in poverty (as of 2010), a deplorable number that hasn't been helped by the economy-stalling tactics of those darlings of the Tea Party in Congress who never miss an opportunity to scare the bejeebers out of the country by playing chicken with the federal government's fundamental financial and administrative operations. Shutdowns, debt limits, fiscal cliffs, sequesters--this is getting ridiculous. It certainly isn't doing anything to change the fact that 46 million of us are poor by definition--so why on earth is anybody shocked to learn that about that same number of Americans use food stamps in order to eat a decent meal every day?
More to the political point, why aren't the powerfully collective voices of the American Farm Bureau and the National Farmers Union being heeded when they say they unequivocally oppose splitting the Farm Bill? As a practical matter, getting a comprehensive bill passed makes planting and marketing decisions possible, especially just now as the next crop year is about to begin. And as a fact of economic life, taking that much ($4 billion a year) food purchasing power out of the market is a financial detriment to the industry--a reality that has to come home to a state like South Dakota and serves as a reminder that the whole food stamp program has historically been a win-win for both consumers and producers.
We should welcome the news that congressional reps in both houses will be taking up the farm bill again next week and remind our delegation that a unified bill is in the best interests of South Dakota.