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2012 Farm Bill
Aug 8, 2012
The debate over the 2012 Farm Bill offers the satisfying spectacle of watching Democrats attack Republicans for not acting enough like Democrats, and Republicans responding by trying to act more like Democrats.
Congresswoman Kristi Noem has been promising a strong farm bill. She has promised to use her influence on the House Agriculture Committee and as freshman liaison to the House GOP leadership to get more benefits for South Dakota farmers and ranchers. The House managed to pass stop-gap drought relief for livestock producers before the August recess, but Speaker Boehner has stalled on the overall farm bill, leaving it simmering until fall. The debate will drag on perilously close to the current farm bill's expiration at the end of September. Every day closer to the November election makes it less likely that Congress will make any tough decisions.
Noem's Democratic challenger, Matt Varilek, showed up outside a closed-door Noem confab with farm leaders Monday to demand that she take faster action on the farm bill. South Dakota farmers need help, Varilek charges; they can't wait for political games. Noem insists she's doing all she can to pass all the government help she can for agriculture.
Read that again: a Democrat says, "We need more government help!" The Republican to whom he says that responds, "I'm getting it to you as quickly as I can!"
Three years ago, we had something called TARP, the Troubled Asset Relief Program. President Bush signed TARP into law. We used TARP to bail out a bunch of the banks that gambled us into the recession. President Obama used TARP to bail out General Motors and Chrysler. Instead of letting those businesses sink or swim on the merits of their own assets and decisions, we said as a national community, "No, no, we can't let the free market run you out of business. You're too big to fail. Here's some cash."
Isn't the farm bill an ongoing bailout for agriculture? Rep. Noem says agriculture is a "national security" issue; it is, therefore, too big a deal to fail. We promise farmers that, whether it's drought or flood or mere fluctuations in consumer preferences, we won't let conditions beyond their control drive them out of business. We pile food stamps into the farm bill, in part to help hungry people, but also to boost demand for agricultural products. On the farm bill, Republicans like Kristi Noem join Democrats like Matt Varilek in saying, essentially, "The market doesn't work! Government must act to keep agriculture afloat!"
It's too bad we can't get Republicans and Democrats to agree like that more often.
Cory Allen Heidelberger writes the Madville Times political blog. He grew up on the shores of Lake Herman. He studied math and history at SDSU and information systems at DSU, and is currently teaching French at Spearfish High School.