Dysfunctional House fails to pass comprehensive farm bill

The House of Representatives left Washington, D.C., without sending a viable farm bill to the Senate, which means House Speaker John Boehner is going to have a lot of work to do when Congress returns in September.

A new five-year farm bill is needed before the present one expires Sept. 30 unless Congress is willing to abandon a program that provides support to large and small farm operations and food stamps for about 47 million Americans.

Financing food stamps is the sticking point. The Senate has passed a comprehensive farm bill, but House Republicans removed food stamps from their version, the first time that has been done in more than 40 years.

Boehner suffered a humiliating defeat when he couldn’t muster enough votes from his caucus to pass a comprehensive measure. He managed to get a bill without food-stamp funding passed by a vote of 216-208, but that bill won’t get concurrence in the Democratically controlled Senate.

The Senate farm bill already cuts about $5 billion from the food-stamp program, but House leaders are looking to keep the food stamps separate from the rest of the bill and to cut about $20 billion from the program.

This is not the time to be slashing food subsidies, certainly not by 25 percent, which would cause a hardship on millions of people, many of them children.

The economy remains fragile, and unemployment remains high. Food stamps — which are no longer stamps — not only fill empty pantries for poor and struggling families, they provide a boost for the economy.

And as high as unemployment is, it isn’t at 48 million, which means that food stamps obviously aren’t just going to people out of work; they are going to tens of millions of underemployed men and women and their families.

These are the working poor, people who toil for low wages and no benefits, struggling for the necessities of life and hoping to improve their lot someday.

It is more than unseemly for members of Congress, who are pulling down six-figure salaries, getting Cadillac health care, fat pensions and monthly car allowances that exceed what some working families make, to be obsessed with cutting back the food-stamp program.

Expensive but affordable

The food stamp program is expensive at about $75 billion, but within the context of a $3 trillion budget, it should not be a deal breaker.

A nation that boasts that it is the greatest in the world should not begrudge food for its poorest people. And it should not overlook the fact that all of those $75 billion are poured right back into the economy, benefiting not only farmers, but wholesalers and grocers, large and small, and trickling down to other businesses and suppliers.

The food-stamp program is a win-win for the nation — just not, apparently, for ideologues who are intent on attacking every aspect of President Johnson’s Great Society of 40 years ago or, for that matter, Roosevelt’s New Deal of 80 years ago. When ideology trumps both compassion and common sense, voters should be concerned.

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