Time to sign farm legislation and move on

ALBANY HERALD EDITORIAL: Bill provides that farmers can produce food and those who need help can get food.

In the end, the compromise package on farm legislation was a lot like the weather that farmers usually deal with — not just right, but good enough to bring a decent crop in.

The bill that was worked up by the House-Senate conference committee and passed the House of Representatives by a bipartisan vote of 251-166, getting support from 162 Republicans and 89 Democrats. Conversely, it also had bipartisan opposition. Sixty-three Republicans and 103 Democrats voted no, while six GOP members and eight Democratic ones didn’t vote.

Georgia’s congressional delegation, which overall supported the measure 7-6-1, was as deeply divided over the issue as any. U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop and three of the state’s remaining four Democratic representatives supported passage. U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, R-Tifton, who served on the compromise panel, was joined by two Republicans — Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Savannah, and Rep. Rob Wooddall, R-Lawrenceville, in voting in favor. Five Republicans and Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, voted no, while Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Grantville, didn’t vote.

The legislation was sent to the Senate, where discussion on it was to get under way Friday afternoon. At the time of this writing, the sense was the Senate would pass the bill at some point and, assuming that, it next will be sent to the president for his signature.

As far as those who were pushing for deep reforms in the bill, there was a good deal of disappointment all around.

A move by House conservatives to decouple the nutrition programs from the farm package failed, though the SNAP program saw a 1 percent cut to its funding and the creation of a 10-state pilot program in which able-bodied adult recipients would be required to participate in work programs. Also included were measures aimed at eliminating loopholes and waste.

It’s also important to note that while the legislation is generally referred to as the nation’s “farm bill,” 80 percent of the spending in the legislation’s anticipated $956 billion cost over 10 years is dedicated to food stamps and nutrition programs.

The remaining 20 percent will go to farm-related programs, which were the targets of liberals who decried “farm welfare.” Direct payment to farmers have been eliminated, while crop insurance programs have been expanded. Limits on payments would be reduced, eligibility rules would be tightened, and farm programs would be more accountable. The dairy program was reformed and there is funding for rural development and environmental concerns.

In the end, nobody got everything and everyone had reason to both support it, and to oppose it.

What it does, though, is it cuts spending by about $2.3 billion per year from years before the sequester hit, and it gives those who rely on these programs certainty on the rules under which they’ll operate for at least the next five years. Farmers, like any business owner, need that spelled out, as do those who depend on nutrition programs to help feed their families.

Like the weather, it’s not perfect. But it does provide a means to ensure that farmers can produce food and those who need help can get food. We’ve gone long enough with extensions of previous farm and nutrition legislation. It’s time to get this farm bill into law and move forward.

The Albany Herald Editorial Board