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Published November 18, 2013, 11:00 AM

Farm bill conferees go to work

Congress needs to stop stalling.

By: The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead,

President Barack Obama hasn’t had much to say about the stalled farm bill. After all, he’s a city boy. But recently he echoed what is being heard all across rural America: “What are we waiting for? Let’s get this done.” Well said.

The president directed his comments to Congress, specifically House Republicans who by any honest assessment have tried mightily to derail comprehensive farm and food legislation. The bipartisan bill that was passed by the Senate has been languishing because House majority leaders refused to promptly appoint members to conference committee. They finally got around to naming conferees months after the Senate had acted.

If the House stall weren’t enough to worry farm country, the House GOP then proceeded to push through a foolish scheme to separate the nutrition title from the farm support title, thus threatening to destroy an urban-rural coalition that has been vital to passing balanced farm legislation for decades. Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., was on the wrong side of that debate, having tried to justify his stance to carve out and cut food stamps by citing an apparent abuse by a surfer who gets food stamps. Well, gosh, if a surfer gamed the program, surely a willy-nilly cut for legitimate recipients (kids, veterans, elderly people) is the right way to punish a lone surfer cheat.

But silliness aside, the fate of the farm bill rests with House-Senate conferees who likely will cobble together a comprehensive bill that includes farm support, conservation and nutrition programs. The farm bill represents — and has represented for generations — the ultimate compromise. If Congress can harmonize the contentious elements of the bill into balanced and efficacious legislation, success could demonstrate that even this fractious Congress can come together for an important bill.

No guarantees. A few in Congress, specifically in House GOP ranks, have never liked federal farm and food programs and never will. Separating the food stamp title from farmer support provisions in the legislation was a thinly disguised attempt to kill the whole thing. That strategy is in harmony with an ideological aversion to farm and food bills of any kind.

But, when it all settles out, smarter, cooler heads will prevail — an outcome that will be good news for farmers, ranchers, rural main streets and the nation’s vast agribusiness sector.

Editor’s note: The editorial appeared in The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead on Oct. 30. Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s editorial board.