Split up farm bill, debate aspects separatelyCongress must regain the trust of rural America.
In 1946, George Orwell wrote an essay condemning political rhetoric, which he said was an attempt to “make lies sound truthful.” In his book “1984,” which warned of a dark totalitarian control over society, he created the Ministry of Truth, which had such slogans inscribed on its wall as “War is Peace,” “Freedom is Slavery” and “Ignorance is Strength.”
Orwell’s “1984” was fiction, but his ominous prediction of “doublespeak” by government is very much alive. Exhibit one: The farm bill.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is attacking the House GOP over its balking at approving the 2012 farm bill, saying opposition is coming from people who don’t understand rural America. “Ever since reapportionment, fewer legislators have come from rural areas” and “urban” lawmakers don’t understand the importance rural communities play in the makeup of America.
The impression is given that those who are opposed to the present farm bill are anti-agriculture “city slickers” who are holding farm interests hostage, and that merely extending the present farm bill for debate rather than agreeing to the lock on the $500 billion bill over 10 years will have a profound effect on the economy.
While this plays well into sound bites for TV news, in fact the farm bill is much more than just agriculture. It involves farm policy, food stamps, telecommunications, research, energy, forestry and conservation. But more important, the farm bill is 80 percent food stamps and nutrition programs — $400 billion, the vast majority of the bill.
Logic would dictate that given the overwhelming importance determined by funding of this bill, it should be called the Nutrition Bill, or the Healthy Eating Bill. But don’t expect it to be called the Food Stamp Bill anytime soon because it plays better with Congress in selling this Orwellian “truth” to taxpayers.
Vilsack says it is ideology that is blocking a “reform-minded” farm bill and without a doubt there was some reform, especially by way of subsidies and actual cuts in the food stamp program that some think is too much, while others think is too little. But ideology also speaks to the Democratic side, which wants not only an increase in food stamps, but also is blocking any attempts to turn the program over to individual states in block grant programs, thereby losing control.
Meanwhile, amidst this ideological war, there are farmers who need certainty in their business — along with other businesses in America — who are suffering and frustrated. And there is angst over drought relief looming ever so heavily going into this year.
If the administration and Congress truly felt empathy for rural America, it would decouple the farm bill from all the other interests under its dome and allow an honest airing of the individual portions contained in it. That way, honest debates can be had on farm policy, conservation, subsidies and, yes, nutrition needs for our nation.
To do no less — to hide or bury initiatives either side considers important but feels may be at risk — means there is no trust that voters would embrace those merits and agree to passage. But if that were the case, if indeed those elements have no merit, then they need to be laid to rest — as does Washington “doublespeak.”