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Editorials

Imperfect farm bill is best-available solution

No one is totally happy with Congress’ new farm bill agreement – and that’s as it should be. In a manner too rarely seen in Washington, the massive legislation approved Wednesday by the House is the result of compromise. When the Senate approves it next week, as is expected, the bill might leave no one celebrating but ultimately will serve everyone better.

“While the bill is not perfect, it represents a bipartisan agreement that will give the Hoosier ag community the certainty it needs to continue feeding our country and being a vital part of Indiana’s economy,” said Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., in a statement.

Republican Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana offered a similar response: “I am pleased that an agreement has been reached because Hoosier farmers and agricultural producers have waited long enough for a new farm bill,” he said in a statement. “I supported the bipartisan Senate version of the farm bill last year and will review this compromise when it becomes available. My hope is that it contains significant cost savings while ensuring our farmers have a broad safety net in the event of a natural disaster.”

Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd, was among the 166 House members who couldn’t support the compromise. He voted against the bill after unsuccessfully leading efforts to sever its connection between agriculture and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly referred to as food stamps. The LaGrange County farmer decries the rural-urban alliance that has powered the farm bill for nearly 40 years as “logrolling.” The fact that the reauthorization displeases both Stutzman and Democrats like Indiana’s Pete Visclosky demonstrates it is truly a compromise agreement. Members of Congress who represent largely urban areas worry that the farm bill’s reduction to SNAP – $8 billion over 10 years – will harm struggling families.

It’s a legitimate concern: While the House version originally sought to slash $40 billion from food stamps, the smaller cut comes on top of a $5 billion reduction from expiration of the federal stimulus. About 47 million Americans were affected; the effects undoubtedly play a part in the empty shelves at Associated Churches Neighborhood Food Network.

On the agriculture side, some already are warning that new programs created by the legislation could end up costing more than the $5 billion realized from eliminating direct payments to farmers. The bill adds spending for government-subsidized crop insurance. It will cover 62 percent of premiums for the $9 billion-a-year insurance program.

The value of the agreement, however, is that it provides policy direction for both agriculture and nutrition programs and, most important, demonstrates that compromise can still happen.

A perfect bill? No, but at least evidence that elected officials can still work together.

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