Half a farm bill

The US House of Representatives shoved food stamps off the table and passed a farm bill without a nutrition title last week. Earlier, the farm bill failed to clear the House because of the $40 billion in food stamp cuts proposed by radical right-wingers. The House action threatens to blow up the rural-urban coalition that protected feeding programs and subsidies to production agriculture. It’s a dangerous game that seeks to chase deficit reduction, even though the deficit is coming down because of economic growth. More than 500 farm groups, from the Farmers Union to the Farm Bureau, opposed dumping food stamps from the farm bill.

Fortunately, the US Senate will save House Republicans from themselves and their fits-and-starts legislative process. The House farm bill must be reconciled with the Senate farm bill (which does include nutrition) by a conference committee comprised of Senate and House members. Since the House has produced only half a bill, the Senate conferees should carry the day. Should. But this is Congress, after all.

The Senate bill calls for food stamp reductions of $4 billion over five years. Even that is too much.

“Four billion dollars is our bottom line. That is all the farther we will go,” Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, told us in an interview Saturday. “Bob Dole would never cut food stamps.”

Harkin was referring to the former Republican Senate Majority Leader from Kansas who was, with Sen. George McGovern, a champion of food stamps and school nutrition programs. Republicans have become harder in recent years in their zeal over pure ideology — let every old man, young woman and child fend for themselves.

If the conference committee cannot arrive at a compromise farm bill, the law could revert to the permanent 1949 farm bill which obviously does not reflect contemporary realities. Many House Republicans might like that, since they are more comfortable living in 1949 than 2013.

Taking food from the mouths of children is not a winning political strategy. The Senate bulls on the conference committee might explain this to the young calves before they lead the GOP to slaughter in the next national election.

By the way, the reason we are talking about a farm bill now is because the House could not produce one last year. The current farm bill was extended for a year. That is another choice the conference committee could make, which would only spotlight House incompetence.

 

State radio pullback

It does not bother us, necessarily, that the state police radio could fade into black eventually. A lot has changed since it was set up in Storm Lake in 1935. It is entirely appropriate for state officials look for ways to consolidate functions as technology improves. Obviously, technology has improved communications exponentially. If one center in the state capital can serve the needs of the Iowa State Patrol, so be it.

We recall not so long ago when the Storm Lake Police operated their own dispatch unit in city hall. Mayor Jon Kruse was at one time a night radio dispatcher there. So was Mark Van Hooser, who runs the comm. center for the Buena Vista County Sheriff’s Office. The BV radio dispatch serves all local emergency needs, including ambulance, fire, local police and sheriff’s deputies. It also communicates with state radio.

Local emergency response will not be affected if state radio eventually goes silent.

We have two principal concerns.

First, the Iowa Department of Public Safety would do well to inform its local partners in law enforcement what its plans and desires are. This is about communications, after all. It helps local planning if the state makes clear its intentions.

Second, we hope this is not a signal that the state will diminish its attention to rural areas or less-travelled byways. As the state has retracted resources from public safety in Northwest Iowa over the past decade, we have seen an increase in the number of local officers. It’s a subtle shift in burden to the property taxpayer. State troopers are covering more miles in bigger regions, and that means that county sheriffs are covering more accidents offering more support to local police in emergency responses.

If a move to cease overnight operations at the Storm Lake State Radio is just a belt-tightening move and nothing more, write it up to effective fiscal management. If you’re going to cease operations, let your partner communities know about it full well in advance.