When the food and farm welfare bill failed on the House floor on May 18th, it was an enormous victory for Americans looking to reverse—or even slow down—the seemingly inexorable march toward runaway deficits and spiraling debt. Indeed, as the ‘No’ votes tallied higher and higher, the outcome began to perfectly mirror that of audiences’ reaction to Thanos’ infamous snap from Infinity War: the slow realization of defeat played out over the faces of a panicked House leadership as the prospects of the bill’s passage dissipated to dust.
For the second time in five years, a $1 trillion farm bill collapsed on the House floor despite reassurances that passage was all but certain.
Dread it. Run from it. Destiny still arrives.
So what happened? Why is it important? And is the farm bill permanently defeated?
What’s In the Farm Bill, Again?
As a recent article by Bryan Berky outlined, the farm bill is a case study in why spending is truly a bipartisan problem. The bill’s spending is roughly 80 percent food stamps—called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP (huh…that’s fitting) for short—and 20 percent corporate welfare for farmers and large agricultural conglomerates.
The most recent iteration of this bill checked out at 644 pages and had a 10-year cost outlook of nearly $1 trillion. The totality of it chock full of hundreds of federal programs—many of them duplicative, dubious in value, and almost all of them stemming from some parochial interest that uses tax dollars to benefit one group at the expense of everyone else.
It’s little more than a legislative game that almost perfectly encapsulates the nature of the so-called ‘swamp’ in Washington. Republicans, who represent more rural interests by and large, want to keep the agricultural programs attached to the food stamp program to ensure that they pass. Democrats, who represent more urban interests by and large, want to keep food stamps attached to the agricultural programs to ensure that they pass.
These things don’t naturally fit together—and Congress knows as much. It’s like shipping Bruce Banner and Black Widow. Just don’t, guys.
In 2013, the last time a farm bill was metaphorically dusted on the floor, there was a push by conservatives concerned with the national debt to separate the food stamp part of the bill from the agricultural subsidies. It took the bill’s initial defeat on the House floor for House leadership to listen. However, instead of permanently separating these two components, leadership set up two separate votes—one on food stamps and one on agriculture subsidies—and then used a procedural tool in conference that recombined the two sections prior to its final passage.
In effect, they set up two ‘show votes’ to appease those advocating for separation in order to get the bill across the House floor. There was no permanent separation, no spending restraints considered, and no policy reforms implemented.
Permanently separating the food and farm welfare bill is needed so that both food stamps and agriculture subsidies can undergo much-needed reforms that will get people into the workforce and help individuals achieve their full potential, while dialing back the excessive spending that has created a $21 trillion national debt.
The Farm Bill Is A Real Mood Killer. So, Why Did it Fail This Time?
If one were to put on a pair of Tony Stark’s rose-colored shades (which you should because Iron Man made them), the answer would be that it failed because enough conservatives in the Republican conference were rightly afraid of the fiscal impact of another $1 trillion in welfare spending and taxpayer-funded corporate handouts.
That would be a reassuring answer if it were the actual one.
A more sober—and accurate—reason is because of a tangential legislative battle over immigration policy. It had little to do with fiscal concerns. That particular angle apparently isn’t so appealing when one party controls both the legislative and executive branch.
And while it would be easy to solely blame members of Congress (and it is really, really easy), the fact remains that many organizations and activists also took a pass at mobilizing opposition to the 2018 bill because their preferred team was in charge this go around. This despite the fact that the bill was just as offensive as the 2013 iteration.
There’s plenty of blame to go around for how we got here.
The practical effect of refusing to stand against this kind of profligate spending is to sow the seeds of discord and distrust over spending fights in the future.
You Like Marvel. You Dislike the Farm Bill. Where’s This Going?
Straight into Avengers 4 territory if rumors are to be believed.
While Thanos’ infamous snap erased some of our favorite superheroes, the $1 trillion farm bill’s SNAP program continues to erase the human potential of those currently subsisting on taxpayer-funded federal largesse—trapping them in a seemingly endless poverty cycle of dependency.
If this trajectory continues, destiny will indeed arrive. And it will be just as ominous as the Mad Titan himself. Unable to service our debt, those taxpayer-funded programs will dry up as the value of the dollar declines, cost-of-living increases dramatically, and the government faces an outstanding tab that it cannot possibly repay.
Americans reliant on taxpayer funds for their livelihood will face an immediate and steep cliff that will truly be harsh. Both parties will be to blame and millennials will be expected to bear the brunt of the consequences.
The House is already planning on reviving the farm bill sometime this summer after the immigration debate is addressed. It’s then expected to pass before its expiration at the end of the fiscal year. Whether the Senate takes it up remains to be seen. Nevertheless, its dusting is likely only a temporary blip in the continued bipartisan exercise in accumulating debt on the backs of younger generations—both present and future.
And while most of us are hopeful that the dusting of some of our favorite superheroes (I’m looking at you Black Panther and Spider-Man) will be reversed, the same should not be said for the legislative harbinger of doom that is the current farm bill.
For the food and farm welfare bill, if there is to be no separation and no policy reforms that bend the cost curve and begin to move people into self-sufficiency, then there should be no resurrections this time.