The U.S. Senate is expected to vote this morning on a measure that will effectively end debate on the misnamed “farm” bill, cutting off opportunities to fix the deeply flawed legislation.
At a cost of a nearly $1 trillion — 80 percent of which goes to the food-stamp program — American taxpayers deserve a robust debate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) won’t let that happen.
This isn’t the first time Reid has pulled this stunt. His iron-fisted approach to running the Senate is one reason Americans hold Washington in such low regard and have a strong distrust of politicians. Reid’s obstructionist move marginalizes the opposition by refusing to allow amendments to be considered.
By muzzling reformers, Reid is also demonstrating a blatant disregard for the Senate’s deliberative nature — one that should welcome an open and hearty debate on a 1,150-page bill that would cost taxpayers $955 billion. Reid’s sense of urgency isn’t too surprising, though, considering members of the Senate Agriculture Committee dispensed of the bill in a mere three hours.
Reid’s need for speed certainly fits well into another problem plaguing Congress — a lack of transparency and accountability. By steamrolling the process, Reid is hoping to avoid problems rampant in the bill itself. For example, in its current form, the bill allows the food-stamp program to continue along as if its costs had not skyrocketed. The legislation also contains new and expensive farm programs that would attempt to eliminate almost all risk for farmers — even minor losses would be covered courtesy of taxpayers.
Reformers have ideas for fixing this behemoth of a bill.
Senators should start by stripping the food-stamp program from the bill, and then move on to reforming farm policy by proposing a real “farm” bill. By making this change, both issues would get the proper attention they deserve. There’s no sound policy reason for these two distinct issues, food stamps and farming, to be combined into one massive bill. Of course, farm bill proponents know this all too well. Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) admitted: “[Food stamps] should continue to be included purely from a political perspective. It helps get the farm bill passed.”
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Until Congress addresses the two issues separately, lawmakers should realize that “fully informed discussion, let alone necessary reform, is all but impossible when the food-stamp program is carried under the banner of a farm bill,” as Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham explained in a National Review op-ed.
But none of this can occur if Reid succeeds in slamming the door. And if that door closes this morning, it’s just another example of Washington politicians ignoring our staggering $17 trillion debt and choosing special interests over taxpayers’ best interests.