U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., successfully amended this year’s federal farm bill to legalize industrial hemp production. And on the Fourth of July, Rep. Polis arranged for an American flag made from hemp to be flown above the U.S. Capitol. Hemp is a cousin of marijuana, leading to plentiful jokes about a high-flying flag.
But the real story, and it’s no joke, is how deep the U.S. House has sunk into dysfunction. The farm bill and food stamps are a prime example. While there was tentative agreement on hemp, there was no agreement on providing food assistance to America’s poor. And we’re not talking about just a few folks. With the economy improving only slowly, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — which is part of the massive farm bill — serves 47.7 million people.
Even many Democrats have agreed that the $80 billion food stamp program can be trimmed. The Senate, with a Democratic majority, passed a farm bill on a bipartisan vote. The Senate bill included cuts to the food stamp program of $4.1 billion.
In a long-sought reform, the Senate bill also eliminated $5 billion in subsidies that have been paid directly to farmers, including farming corporations, even if they did not grow a crop. All told, the Senate bill would have reduced spending about $24 billion from current levels. Granted, that still left expenditures close to $1 trillion over a decade. But agriculture is of enormous significance.
But the Senate cuts weren’t enough for some House Republicans. To show just how hard-core they are — in fact, to show just how heartless they are — they even voted against the House version of the farm bill, which would have cut food stamp by a whopping $20.5 billion.
To make matters even worse, an amendment by Rep. Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Panama City, required food stamp recipients — including those unable to afford child care — to work 20 hours a week or be enrolled in a job training or search program. States would get to keep half of everything saved by kicking people off food stamps. Gov. Rick Scott supported the measure. In fact, many people don’t need the moral posturing. They work full time but still don’t make enough to support their families without assistance.
Democrats opposed to the Southerland amendment joined Republicans who wanted deeper cuts than $20 billion to defeat the farm bill in the House.
House Speaker John Boehner’s inability to shepherd a farm bill to passage sets off alarm bells. It’s the kind of bill that should have a natural bipartisan constituency. If Mr. Boehner can’t put together a farm bill package, prospects for immigration are even dimmer. The scariest prospect is another debt-ceiling standoff in the fall.
The House needs to act on the farm bill before its temporary extension expires Sept. 30. For now, the House has shown more concern for hemp than for the hungry.
Jac Wilder VerSteeg
for The Post Editorial Board