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June 11, 2013 1:34 PM Another Rough Beast….

By Ed Kilgore

In a legislative development involving a bill (and a political dynamic) even messier than the immigration reform bill, the Senate passed a version of the multi-year “Farm Bill” for the second straight session.

You can read Wonkblog’s Brad Plumer for a succinct description of the contents of the Senate farm bill (it contains a significant shift of resources from direct subsidies to farmers to other kinds of insurance and price supports). But the real hot button is the SNAP (or food stamp) program, which conservatives in both chambers are determined to slash. Here’s Brother Benen on the Senate bill and the pending House bill (which hasn’t gone to the floor yet):

As a substantive matter, there’s quite a bit not to like in the bipartisan Senate version of the bill, at least from a progressive perspective. This year’s Farm Bill achieves some savings by trimming unnecessary agricultural subsidies (that’s good), but it also cuts conservation programs (that’s bad). The legislation continues international food aid, but largely ignores the worthwhile reforms President Obama proposed in March.
Perhaps most importantly, though Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) condemned the “unchecked growth of food stamp entitlements” in the bill, that’s absurd — the legislation cuts over $4 billion from food stamps over the next decade.
So why did Democrats support this bill? A few reasons, actually. First, they saw it as far better than the House version. Second, this year’s Farm Bill maintains support for a variety of agricultural industries that exist in every part of the country, including a dairy market stabilization program that Dems like. And third, they saw these cuts as fairly modest and the price of getting a bipartisan bill that stood a chance of passing.

It’s important to understand that farm bills are almost always a log-rolling mess, with countless tradeoffs involving commodity interests and regional coalitions. But the current focus of conservatives on radical ($20 billion in the House bill, still far less than what conservative activists are demanding) reductions in SNAP eligibility, at a time of growing income inequality and high unemployment, has introduced an unusually sharp ideological element into all the horse-trading and back-scratching. So it’s unclear what if anything will ultimately be worked out, particularly since there’s constant talk of a conservative revolt against the House bill for its SNAP funding levels. John Boehner’s pledging to bring the farm bill up for a vote this month, but it’s probably hostage to the continuing negotiations the leadership is having with restive conservatives over a broad range of issues, including the Hastert Rule and immigration reform.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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