Everyone in the U.S. House of Representatives, it seems, was late last week pointing accusatory fingers at everyone else after a five-year extension of the farm bill was defeated. It was believed by some that the Republican leadership wouldn't bring the bill to a vote unless enough votes had been secured beforehand to pass it, but that obviously wasn't the case.
Despite the fact that the version of the bill that passed the U.S. Senate previously contains $4 billion in cuts to the federal food stamps program, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), House leaders reached too far by including $20.5 billion in SNAP reductions in the House version of the bill. That was the likely reason that 172 House Democrats voted against the bill. Sixty-two Republicans cast ballots against it, too, but that's apparently because they wanted deeper cuts to the food stamps program.
It all begs the question, why is a federal program that fills a critical need for families in need hamstrung to a bill that's supposed to set agriculture policy in this nation? Couldn't the farm bill stick to farming, with SNAP and other nutrition programs standing alone, or going under some other legislation's umbrella? Why should the failure of a single bill to pass leave both farmers and government agencies who help families in need in similar states of limbo? If spending cuts are going to be debated in the farm bill, can't those cuts be targeted at billions in government support for big-buck, corporate farms that don't even come close to needing it?
But this is Congress, and Congress rarely makes sense.
Then there's Minnesota's 7th District representative in the House, longtime incumbent Collin Peterson. The ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, he's long been intimately involved in farm bill negotiations over the years, and he came out swinging after the bill went down to defeat on Thursday. Peterson blamed House Republican leaders for failing to control the "extreme wing" of their party, the wing presumably occupied by Republicans who wanted more than $20.5 billion in cuts to SNAP. Peterson said that Republicans in the chamber insisted on adding a couple of amendments to the bill, even though they were warned by the Democratic leadership that the amendments threatened to torpedo the entire legislation.
Peterson's probably right, but what's his explanation for being one of the few Democrats who voted for the bill? Sure, Peterson has long been a champion of compromise because he understands no one in Washington, D.C. gets everything they want, but is $20.5 billion in SNAP cuts a compromise?
Peterson is very popular in the largley rural 7th District, most likely because, unless he's talking about the federal farm program, he often sounds like a Republican and often votes like a Republican. But maybe, in the wake of the farm bill's defeat in the House, he should rally around his fellow Democrats instead of blaming Republicans. When Congress yet again fails to accomplish something meaningful, it's simply too easy and predictable to react with the point of a partisan finger.
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