Last week bipartisanship prevailed in the Senate as members came together to pass the Agriculture, Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, also known as the Farm Bill. Many pundits and lawmakers had bet that this expensive and complex piece of legislation would not have a chance of getting through the Senate especially in an election year. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called it “one of the finest moments in the Senate in recent times in terms of how you pass a bill.” Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Pat Roberts (R-KS) deserve particular praise for slogging through 73 proposed amendments to pass a bill that will save $23 billion over 10 years. But this is not without precedent – food and farm policy has a strong history of partnerships that cross vastly different political and ideological lines.
For almost 50 years, U.S. farm legislation has been passed in conjunction with funding for domestic nutrition support programs. This pairing goes back to 1964, when the first act providing widespread support for food stamps gained broad acceptance as part of a larger appropriation that provided price supports for cotton and wheat. Many rural lawmakers supported the Food Stamp Act of 1964 so that their urban counterparts would not slash farm subsidies. This grand bargain is still intact today, supporting food and farm systems that provide for a growing population, while allowing almost 80 percent of funding in the Senate’s Farm Bill to support the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, or SNAP (formerly called food stamps). Increasingly, our nation recognizes the connection between food and farm policy and both our health and the health of our economy; with this bill, the Senate has built on steps taken in the 2008 Farm Bill to support farm and food assistance programs that encourage production and healthy eating.
With this bargain bridging traditional ideological and urban/rural divides, Farm Bill votes instead hinge on regional and geographic differences. 48 Democrats and 16 Republicans voted “yes” to this bill. The strongest opposition to the bill came from Southern lawmakers, who opposed the change in farm supports due to the impact on peanut and rice growers across the southeast.
The tradition of bipartisanship on display last week was inspiring, especially considering the other large ideological battles currently being fought in Congress. As these important debates continue we should all pause to recognize this example of lawmakers coming together across party lines, in an election year, to pass this essential legislation.
- Glickman: Cooperation Plants Seeds in the Senate
June 27, 2012