• Playing politics
    June 22,2013

    Someone in Washington, D.C., left the barn door open and the U.S. House of Representatives just wandered out. In their haste, they rejected the U.S. Farm Bill.

    The vote, 234-195, spells trouble for the state’s dairy industry.

    Even after the House Agriculture Committee had reached a compromise that some Democrats were willing to support, it only took a few extreme amendments to serve as the tipping point for the bill that is crucial for local farmers because — most notably — it would have offered certain stability in milk prices, insurance premiums and feed prices.

    In fact, one of the amendments all but did away with dairy price stabilization programs that served as a key piece of the contentious bill.

    Another amendment would have added a punitive work requirement to food stamp eligibility rules on recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps. Democrats like our own Rep. Peter Welch pointed out that that amendment was providing for nonexistent work programs, and were simply introduced to derail the process. Meanwhile, a separate amendment would have allowed for drug testing of food stamp recipients.

    Welch and others got shouted down in the political barnyard.

    Some political watchers say the farm bill may well be the first sign of things to come.

    Regrettably, local farmers facing a wetter-than-average spring now have another thing to worry about. But the effects could be felt in every community, from Newport to Brattleboro. In Vermont, there are more than 101,000 people who receive SNAP assistance — a third of them are children. In fact, 61 percent of Vermont families getting SNAP benefits have children.

    There were some Democrats on Capitol Hill willing to support the farm bill despite the draconian cuts to SNAP and other nutrition programs in the hope that when the bill moved to conference committee — where differences between the House and Senate versions would be resolved — SNAP funding would be restored, at least in part.

    The bill already contained $40 billion in cuts, more than half of them from SNAP.

    But the political game of chicken put the bill into the ditch.

    On Friday, it remained unclear whether the farm bill could be resurrected again. The House’s vote Thursday was called “a stunning defeat for Speaker John Boehner,” who supported the legislation and brought it to the House floor for a vote, according to The New York Times. “Boehner was unable to win support from 62 Republicans on the party’s conservative fringe, who cast “no” votes because they believed the $20.5 billion cut in the food stamps program did not go deep enough. Nearly all Democrats also voted no because that draconian cut would have eliminated food assistance for nearly 2 million people.” Now it appears some Democrats, who might have voted for the House bill, were repelled by the last-minute Republican amendments.

    “It is unclear exactly what the House bill’s defeat will mean for Boehner,” the Times wrote in its editorial. “It could mean trouble for immigration reform, which has bipartisan support in the Senate. One question is whether Boehner and other Republican leaders will try to secure the votes of the most radical party members by producing another version of the farm bill with even more devastating food stamp cuts or, worse, by turning the program into a capped block grant to the states.”

    The Times concluded that “congressional Democrats will need to stand strong against weakening an effective program that helps millions of Americans.”

    The nation’s agriculture industry deserves better treatment. Just ask any Vermont farmer how hard it is to get everyone back in the barn once the door is left open.

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