Eagle editorial: AWOL on farm bill

Kansas now must rely on other states’ delegations to pass farm bills.
Kansas now must rely on other states’ delegations to pass farm bills.

Five of the six members of the Kansas delegation just voted against a farm bill – a stunning abdication of leadership in a state in which agriculture is 25 percent of the economy.

Only Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., voted Tuesday for the $956.4 billion, five-year farm bill, which nevertheless now goes to President Obama.

Kansas, which was the recipient of $16.4 billion in agricultural subsidies from 1995 to 2012, traditionally has been at the forefront of crafting and passing farm bills. Its lawmakers have aptly set the congressional agenda for agriculture policy while looking out for Kansas’ best interests, understanding that farm bills are crucial to helping farmers cope with weather and market forces and to safeguarding rural communities in Kansas and the state’s economy.

They have seen that farm bills must be bipartisan, with former Sen. Bob Dole leading the 1970s effort to bind rural and urban interests in agricultural policy by including food stamps in the nation’s safety net for farmers. A 4th District congressman, Dan Glickman, went on to oversee farm policy and the food stamp program as agriculture secretary during the Clinton administration.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chaired the House Agriculture Committee for the innovative 1996 farm bill and started out the latest round of work on a bill as ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee. But by the belated end of the process, Roberts was no longer in that key spot and was facing a GOP primary challenge from the right.

Along the way, Kansas’ 1st Congressional District also lost the state’s traditional spot on the House Agriculture Committee, because Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, would rather be a provocateur than a lawmaker who works with others to get results.

The Kansans who voted “no” in recent days had their reasons, of course. Most judged the bill’s $16 billion in cuts to federal spending over a decade as insufficient, especially the $8 billion it removes from food stamps via eligibility changes that will affect 850,000 households nationwide.

“I believe it reflects a step backwards to the old Washington of pet projects, reckless spending and harmful regulation,” said Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, who predicted it “will cause serious trade and regulatory problems for our state’s livestock producers.” Roberts, who also voted against the conference report in committee, had called the process “broken,” the legislation “backward-looking” and its food-stamp reform “alleged.”

No farm bill is ever perfect. But as Steve Baccus, president of the Kansas Farm Bureau, told the New York Times, “after suffering through the worst drought in 50 years in 2012 and with the 2008 farm bill expired, we supported getting something done.”

It’s disconcerting to realize that Kansas now must rely on other states’ delegations to pass farm bills.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman