Vilsack defines farm bill

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack put the heat on in the right place when he told the Iowa Farm Bureau’s economic summit Monday that Congress must pass a “food, fiber and jobs” bill. Thank the stars, the Obama Administration might be standing up for a fight that it can win. The secretary’s remarks should motivate Farm Bureau members to steer right-wing House members to their senses.

If production agriculture needs and wants a partner in Washington, Vilsack intimated, it should support other sectors of the rural economy. Farm Bureau cannot win an argument for crop insurance subsidies if it appears it doesn’t care about child nutrition programs.

The House passed a farm bill but dropped the food stamp funding portion for a later day. That bill will not fly with a Senate that passed a decent five-year farm bill with a nutrition program and with a better take on conservation. There has been some talk on both the right and the left that maybe we should consider farm and food funding separately. Do that and both lose. Urban legislators won’t care about corn production and rural legislators won’t care about poor, single mothers in Chicago. Together, they win by rural supporting urban and vice-versa. Farmers had to learn that political lesson the hard way during the Great Depression and the years immediately after.

Vilsack appeared to draw a line in the sand. He should stand by it.

Agriculture’s vital safety net is protected by a complex web of sometimes competing interests that includes nutrition, conservation, bankers, municipalities and private industry. Mess with one component and you are playing with political dynamite, an explosion of which has unpredictable consequences.

Iowa fed up

Good thing Barack Obama is not running for re-election. Iowans — swing voters extraordinaire — appear to be tiring of the President. A Quinnipiac Poll released Monday reports that Obama’s job approval rating in Iowa is the lowest among nine swing states and is at an ebb in the Tall Corn State. Iowa voters disapprove of his performance 55-41%, which would be considered drowning underwater in a pre-election cycle.

His coattails may be dragging Hillary Clinton with him. She is tied with New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie in a hypothetical match-up, and only leads goofy Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker by seven percentage points. And, those who believe Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Waterloo, will easily take over Tom Harkin’s US Senate seat is virtually unknown in Iowa. (Braley has served multiple terms in Congress; Iowans used to think of themselves as something above ignorant, but that is a quaint notion.)

What to make of it all?

Iowans are fed up with Washington, left and right.

Congress can’t pass a farm bill and would prefer to starve the working poor. It can’t pass a budget. The sequester is about to dramatically reduce spending on defense, and people worry. The Senate majority leader must threaten to blow up the venerable filibuster just to get seven people appointed to federal commissions. Despite strong public support for comprehensive immigration reform, it appears to be dead in the House.

Obama himself waffled and failed to lead on health care. What we got was a muddle — better than before, but a reform that remains deeply unpopular because it fixes so little. He has the goons spying on average Americans in their private conversations. The change he promised has not materialized.

Iowa is a perfect barometer of the national mood because it is truly purple. Independents dominate Iowa elections. This is neither Wyoming nor Vermont.

The poll hints to us that voters are, in the midst of summer, disengaged and essentially saying, “a pox on all your houses.”

Clinton’s weak showing might — might — be an indicator that she could get a scare in the Iowa caucuses, which she did not exactly embrace last time around. But Vice President Joe Biden polls even worse. The only hope that Republicans may find from the latest polling numbers is that they are not as far behind in every major race as they should be given their pitiful performance in Congress.