The unholy alliance is breaking down. That’s the infamous moniker given to the group of lawmakers that has historically banded together to push the farm bill over the finish line. Rural members boast about the subsidies they secure for big agri-businesses in their districts, while urban members latch onto hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars in welfare for food stamps. Together this alliance has been able to defeat any meaningful reforms to either portion of the bill. Last week, we witnessed exactly that: A paltry trim to the explosive growth in food stamp spending spawned a presidential veto threat and a House Democratic revolt. In an effort to protect their ever-shrinking piece of the farm bill pie, status quo House Republicans proposed to slow the growth in future food stamp spending. The fig leaf didn’t work.
More noteworthy, however, was the staunch conservative opposition to the bill, both on and off Capitol Hill. Sixty-two House Republicans refused to carry water for the bloated and broken bill; this is up markedly from the scant 14 GOP members that opposed the 2008 version. Dozens of conservative and free market organizations, including Americans for Prosperity, were united in our opposition to the $940 billion spending bill.
Speaker Boehner and Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas promised an open process that would allow the House to “work its will.” Although 103 amendments were made in order on the floor, the best conservative ones were purposefully blocked, including: an amendment to stop bribing Brazil from re-filing a WTO complaint against the U.S. for our sky-high cotton subsidies, an amendment to block grant the food stamp program so that states can get their programs under control, and an amendment to eliminate the new shallow loss program intended replace the direct payment program.
The most important amendment that was denied a vote was offered by Congressman Marlin Stutzman from Indiana. The fourth-generation farmer is a sophomore member of the House and part of the 2010 conservative class that refuses to play the old Washington games. Stutzman’s amendment would simply separate the farm welfare and food welfare titles from each other so that each can be considered on its own merit. This approach is long overdue and would start the fundamental reform process that is necessary for both components of the notorious five-year spending bill.
The farm bill’s failure in the House last week is the not the end of the story but just the next chapter. Last year the House didn’t even bring the bill to the floor because the votes weren’t there. This year we’ve seen again the old way of doing business didn’t pass either. All is not lost, we can get these programs fixed and passed. First step, the House must allow the Stutzman amendment to come to a vote. The titles must be split into two stand-alone bills that are considered on their own merits, and each should be a given a separate vote. Reform is on the march and the farm bill is directly in its path. The unholy alliance appears to be breaking down; it may finally be time to reform the biggest welfare bill in town.
Mr. Valvo is director of policy at Americans for Prosperity.