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June 26, 2013

Farm bill posturing is no joke

The Daily Star

---- — Americans generally show a generous amount of forbearance when it comes to the clownish behavior regularly exhibited by those who represent them in Washington, D.C. But sometimes the posturing and party politics aren’t the least bit amusing.

One such incidence occurred last week when the House of Representatives voted down its version of the trillion-dollar farm bill. The wide-ranging legislation is customarily renewed with amendments about every five years and covers virtually everything under the aegis of the United States Department of Agriculture.

This is especially important to rural areas, such as ours. Aspects of the bill such as farm credit, conservation, food safety, international trade and subsidies can be complex, which is why the legislation is usually about two years in the making.

But what messed things up for the country was the emotional issue of what used to be called food stamps, and now is called SNAP, standing for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

The Senate cut almost $4 billion over 10 years from the SNAP program in its farm bill, which garnered 66 bipartisan votes. The House version would have cut $20 billion. Even then, House Democrats said they would go along, promising 40 votes in favor.

To hear Republican Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, tell it, the Democrats broke their word, and that’s why the bill failed.

“The Democrats promised 40 votes and they didn’t deliver the votes that they had promised,” Ryan said Monday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program. “Our leaders brought the bill to the floor based on the commitment that Democrats from the agricultural districts made. And then during consideration of this bill on the floor, they reneged on the commitment of the 40 votes that they promised and the bill went down.”

Ryan, who, by the way, didn’t vote for the bill, neglected to mention one little item. Last week, Republicans under the leadership of House Speaker John Boehner added amendments that would allow states to make SNAP recipients take drug tests and require work training.

In congressional parlance, that’s known as a “poison pill,” something so obviously unpalatable to members of the other party that they vote against the entire bill.

“The speaker should have known he couldn’t pass legislation that amounts to a partisan love note to the tea party,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Monday.

We urge Boehner to allow a House vote on the Senate version of the bill, which most observers believe would pass with Democrats and moderate Republicans voting for it. The speaker, however, is unlikely to let the vote take place because of — you guessed it — party politics.

Lives and livelihoods are at stake. It’s not funny.