Editorial: U.S. House finally passes viable farm bill

01/30/2014 12:00 AM

01/29/2014 4:23 PM

The U.S. House finally got past tea party extremists to replace the 2008-2012 farm bill, approving the legislation by a 251-to-166 vote on Wednesday.

The hangup the last two years had been food stamps. The final House version makes deeper cuts to the nation’s food safety net than President Barack Obama and the Senate wanted, and more than may be warranted, given the sputtering economic recovery, especially in California.

But the bill was a compromise, probably the best that could be gotten given the current makeup of the House. Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, deserves credit for getting a passable bill to the House floor.

The most conservative Republicans sought a $39 billion cut from food stamps between 2014 and 2023. The Senate proposed $4 billion. Under the House compromise, the cut would be $8 billion.

Some cuts are justified because the need, driven by the Great Recession, is diminishing as the economy recovers. California has a big stake in this. A low-wage job supplemented with food stamps has been a lifesaver for many working people in these difficult times.

In the end, House Republicans supported the bill, 162 to 63. House Democrats mostly opposed it because of the food stamp cuts, 89 to 103. But Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, to her credit, delivered enough Democrats for victory. The bill now will go to the Senate and President Barack Obama has said he will sign it.

The California delegation made a group of strange bedfellows. Thirteen of 38 Democrats voted for the bill, including Doris Matsui, Ami Bera, John Garamendi, Mike Thompson, Jerry McNerney and Jim Costa. They joined eight of 15 Republicans, including Doug LaMalfa, Jeff Denham, David Valadao, Devin Nunes and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy.

Californians voting against it, not surprisingly, included Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, who thought cuts weren’t deep enough, and Karen Bass, a Los Angeles Democrat, who thought the cuts were too deep.

Farm and conservation groups are relieved that the House finally approved a five-year bill. Farmers need a predictable safety net to minimize the volatility of the weather, pests and world prices. The bill would end direct payments to farmers – the traditional farm subsidy program – in favor of crop insurance to manage risk, a good thing.

Specialty crop growers – fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruit, nursery plants and other crops important to California – won a block grant program for research and marketing.

The bill also would provide a land safety net, to minimize the effects of floods, drought and erosion.

HR 2642 has much to like, and much still to fix. But the House showed that it can accomplish something, if it doesn’t let a vocal, uncompromising minority rule. Now, let’s see if the House can tackle immigration reform.

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