Dysfunctional display

EDITORIAL

BY ART CULLEN

If the Republican apparatus were functioning properly, we would have had a farm bill signed by the President by now. But because of dysfunction in the administration, infighting among regions and deep differences among GOP factions in the House and Senate, the last farm bill expired on Sept. 30. And that farm bill came about two years after the previous farm bill expired, thanks to the House Freedom Caucus.

They’re at it again in the House, trying to cut conservation funding and write food stamps out of the bill. Divorcing food stamps from the farm bill will be the final fizzure in a coalition among rural and urban lawmakers designed to draw support from the poor for the farmer. It is an historic blunder that will rip apart delicate Midwestern coalitions.

While the senators and congressmen fumbled around in conference committee trying to smooth over irreconcilable differences, President Trump was getting tariffs slapped on Iowa’s most important ag exports by the Chinese. Commodity markets are in the doldrums. The disaster payment won’t cover the loss, just a penny a bushel is all a corn farmer gets.

If the Republicans were successful at governing, they would have had a farm bill ready before the midterm election to either buy votes or satisfy key constituencies — such as corn growers. That they could not muster even a shell to vote clearly says that the caucus remains in disarray even after the Kavanaugh charade.

And that’s bad for Iowa, for the United States and the world. Because we all depend on a stable and coherent farm policy that provides a basic safety net, that conserves resources and that provides for national food security. Pathetically, we are fighting over whether poor people should get food assistance.

For decades, the North and South, Democrat and Republican, urban and rural were able to come together around the five-year farm bill. It was the ultimate act in the art of political compromise, bending to every sort of interest for the good of the most. Now the system is broken for the good of the few who benefit when farmers are lean and rural communities are desperate.

A conference committee has been meeting among senators and representatives. The problem is among the Republicans, it is not a bipartisan rift. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, reports that she thinks a farm bill will be passed in the lame-duck session of Congress. We’re not sure that is something anyone should hope for, when people are voting who have nothing to lose except their good sense.

This would have been an opportunity for our congressman, Steve King, to show leadership over something that matters vitally to Northwest Iowa. He has been busy sharing Tweets with neo-Nazis in Europe, and they are not about crop insurance or the Conservation Reserve Program. Our problem is not a border wall or a Mexican invasion but soybean prices being a couple bucks off where they should be, were it not for Trump’s blundering with solid support from King, Ernst, Grassley and Reynolds.

It’s going to get better, just wait and see, they say. It would start to get better if they got their act together and passed a status-quo farm bill that protects the Conservation Reserve, the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. And, a bill that sets a safety net through crop insurance, and which encourages value-added trade with our friends and neighbors, Canada and Mexico. We have none of that.

And, it certainly would help agriculture if we could fix a broken immigration system that treats manure handlers like felons. But when they can’t even pull off a farm bill, well …

At some point voters will figure out that the joke is on us, and that there is an alternative.

JD Scholten, a Democrat from Sioux City, will not stand in the way of a farm bill in order to impose his ideological views at our loss. He will work with his colleagues to deliver a farm safety net, a strong conservation title and a healthy food assistance program that benefits the needy. We did it for decades since the Great Depression. This sort of dysfunction is almost unprecedented. The Republicans have failed when they cannot even cobble together a farm bill anymore.