Minnesota's GOP reps help pass "partisan, broken" farm bill

Minnesota's GOP reps help pass "partisan, broken" farm bill
Alternative Heat and Congressman Tim Walz

On Thursday, the Republican-run U.S. House passed a farm bill. This should be good news: The all-important package of legislation, which comes up for a vote every five years, expired in September 2012, and has left many in farm country in limbo.

But the House's latest version of the farm bill -- which earned support from Minnesota's three GOP reps, but passed without a single Democratic vote -- has sparked controversy over the future of nutritional assistance programs, or food stamps. It splits off that funding, which has been included in the farm bill since 1973, from the legislation, instead saving it to deal with later.

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"This is what happens when extremism rules the day," Rep. Tim Walz, whose district covers southern Minnesota, said in a conference call this morning. "It was a gimmick to make folks not have to govern. [Tea Party members] can go home today and say, we passed a farm bill, but they didn't do anything. What they did was fracture a coalition."

At the end of June, a farm bill passed the Senate with bipartisan support, but a similar measure failed in the House. That version found savings in subsidies and included cuts to food stamps to the tune of $2 billion per year, or 3 percent. House Republicans said it wasn't enough, while Democrats said even those cuts were too deep.

Thursday's House bill, though, eliminated direct payments but actually increased certain other subsidies, and split off food stamps entirely. It's opposed by the White House, which has promised a veto, as well as by organizations like the Minnesota Farm Bureau and the Minnesota Farmers Union.

Walz cautions that the Tea Party won't be able to remove nutrition assistance programs permanently, and so blocking efforts to improve them is counter-productive: "They're probably going to make them more inefficient."

"It's a mess," he continues. "The ideology trumped common sense. For the past year and a half we held 30-plus hearings. What we get on the House floor that passes is a bill cobbled together at 2 a.m... that no one read."

Walz hopes that, when Congress goes home for August recess, representatives' constituents will make a lot of noise. "I hope the pressure is intense," he says, and gets the legislators in a pragmatic enough frame of mind to return to Washington and resuscitate the bipartisan bill that failed two weeks ago.

"We've got budgets that are sitting undone, we've got immigration reform," Walz says. "Those things are going to be very difficult if this doesn't go first."

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