In 1996, a newly Republican Congress ended welfare as we knew it. In doing so, the Republicans improved a New Deal program that had become archaic, counterproductive, and dependency-forming. They also improved the public's image of Republicans. By defining the GOP as a party of ideas rather than interests, they burnished its reformist credentials and helped propel George W. Bush to the White House.
Fast-forward a decade. Once again, Congress has changed hands. Once again, the new majority needs to signal that it stands for more than business as usual. Once again, an archaic, counterproductive, and dependency-inducing New Deal program is ripe for reform. Once again, a consensus has emerged on the general direction for reform. This time, the opportunity is to end farm welfare as we know it.
In 2007, agricultural subsidies come up for reauthorization. Numbingly complex and arcane, farm bills have traditionally been of interest mainly to the agriculture lobbyists and farm-region legislators who wrote them in the Capitol's back rooms. In 2007, however, all Democratic lawmakers, not just the farm groupies, would be well advised to pay attention.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., is certainly taking notice. Though not a member of the Agriculture Committee, "I've been preparing for this reauthorization, and I plan to be actively involved," he said in a recent interview. "It's critically important to my state, which is shortchanged by the farm bill." His district has fruit, wine, nurseries, and "the largest Christmas tree farm in America"—all outside the charmed circle of federal farm subsidies.