An Urban's Rural View

Splittism Comes to Farm Bill Politics

Urban C Lehner
By  Urban C Lehner , Editor Emeritus
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In Stalin's Soviet Union, "splittism" was a word that inspired dread. It meant straying from the party line. If the party newspapers branded you a splittist you packed a suitcase and trembled while you waited for the knock on the door in the middle of the night and the forced march to the gulag -- or the firing squad.

Today's American farm-bill politics has its own version of splittism. But far from quivering in fear our splittists are the ideologues driving events, maneuvering to split the farm bill into a farm bill and a food bill.

That, the splittists reckon, would split the urban-rural coalition that has shielded food stamps and farm subsidies in previous farm-bill votes. It would make gutting both programs easier.

The splittists calculate correctly if we're talking about the Republican-controlled House, with its large contingent of Tea Party freshmen and sophomores. But there's another split to consider.

The constitution splits Congress into two houses. Democrats control the Senate. They'll swallow arsenic before they join the House's firing squad on food stamps. House Republicans can make a statement on the program but they can't make law.

Remember, food stamps are a "mandatory" program, which can only be changed by new legislation or a change in appropriations. So if neither house wavers and no "food bill" passes, food-stamp spending continues at current levels.

Yes: By splitting the bill, the splittists will achieve even less food-stamp reform than if they'd voted for the $20 billion cut in the unified House farm bill, or even the $4 billion cut in the Senate's unified farm bill, either of which could have become law after a conference with the Senate.

The old Soviet Union produced several world chess champions. The U.S. has produced only one, Bobby Fischer. But maybe our American splittists are playing brilliant chess, looking several moves ahead. Maybe they're planning to checkmate food stamps in 2015, figuring Republicans will win the Senate in 2014.

The other possibility is they're not playing chess. They're playing chicken, counting on the Senate to swerve first and let big cuts in food stamps become law. If that's their game, we should all prepare for a crash.



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Timothy Gieseke
7/9/2013 | 11:37 AM CDT
Farming, ensuring adequate nutrition, and long-term landscape management has a lot in common - one could even make the case that the three should be including together under an umbrella policy such as a Federal Farm Bill. But after a few decades of easy public money, Revenue-insured enterprises, epidemic obesity and Midwest soils lying bare for most of the year. There is not alliance nor allegiance under the policy umbrella. If the point is to maintain the same policy and funding, then keeping the farm bill intact is necessary. If the point is to ensure farming, nutrition and the landscape remains intact, then, according to the old saying, we would have to be insane to expect change while staying on the same path. I hear some mutterings of a few farmers (not farm organizations) to just split the bill as it hurts them far too politically and socially to keep the blame that they are bloating the budget.