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Eagle editorial: Farm bill games

  • Published Wednesday, July 24, 2013, at 12 a.m.

Kansas is seeing an example of congressional dysfunction that would be funny if it weren’t playing political games with livelihoods and the rule of law. It’s the strange case of how a congressman farmer voted against a farm bill he’d altered to override a court decision and further a planned coal-fired power plant in his district.

First Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, helped defeat a House farm bill last month, complaining that it “locks in the massive expansion of the food stamp program and spends nearly 80 cents of every dollar on food stamps.”

So when a food-stamp-free, agriculture-only farm bill came to the House floor and passed 216-208 two weeks later, where was Huelskamp? He was among only 12 Republicans to vote “no” that time, and the only Kansan to do so.

In a statement released by his office Tuesday to The Eagle editorial board, Huelskamp said he voted against the second farm bill because, “with the removal of food stamps from the bill . . . it provided absolutely none of the much-needed reforms to this massive $80 billion welfare program.”

So Huelskamp, after thinking food stamps were too dominant in the first farm bill, voted against the second bill because food stamps were absent from it? Is that any way to represent 1st District farmers, who collect more than half of all the agricultural subsidies paid in Kansas and are looking for the certainty of a five-year farm bill?

Huelskamp liked at least one thing in the House-passed bill – the provision he inserted that meddles in a legal fight over Sunflower Electric Power Corp.’s proposed $2.8 billion, 895-megawatt coal-fired power plant near Holcomb.

Activists with the Sierra Club and Earthjustice had called attention to the provision last week, saying it would negate a federal court decision requiring the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service to do an environmental review before Sunflower’s project is granted necessary approvals. A spokeswoman for Sunflower at first said she didn’t know anything about it.

But the next day Huelskamp’s office issued a statement claiming authorship, saying “the court’s interpretation of the law is contrary to both Congress’ intent and the USDA’s longstanding practice for privately funded projects.” His statement also said the plant expansion “has already been delayed too long by federal bureaucrats” and “will help meet the energy needs of Kansans.”

Never mind that most of the power from the new plant would go to Colorado, the offense of a congressman trying to override a four-year judicial process via the fine print of a farm bill – or, perhaps most galling of all, that Huelskamp voted against the bill.

With the current farm bill scheduled to expire Sept. 30, it will now fall to House and Senate negotiators to reconcile the House’s stand-alone farm bill with the Senate’s traditional version pairing food aid and agricultural subsidies. The first thing to go should be Huelskamp’s pro-Sunflower provision.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman

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