Few people are paying attention to the farm bill currently making its way through Congress. Between the government shutdown, the technical flaws of Healthcare.gov, and the never-ending budget negotiations, Washington has plenty of political drama to divert its attention. As the House and Senate try to reconcile their views on the 1,000-page piece of legislation over the coming weeks, it seems that the Obama administration is taking advantage of this distraction to put some good, old-fashioned spin on the controversial topic of farm subsidies.
In an interview at the Washington Ideas Forum on Wednesday, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack described a bill that’s about pretty much everything but the money the federal government gives to American farmers. People need to “understand the extraordinary opportunity this bill presents to grow the economy, to stabilize our energy security, to rebuild the infrastructure that’s important to rebuild in rural areas,” he said.
When described in that way, the bill sounds bipartisan and non-controversial. But Vilsack’s interviewer, Ruth Marcus, pointed out that political division that has perennially haunted this kind of legislation. “You’ve got two disparate interests: food stamps, now SNAP [the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program], that are essential to one constituency, and you’ve got a House bill that’s talking about cutting them by an astonishing amount,” Marcus said. And “you’ve got equally entrenched on the other side … ‘wasteful farm subsidies’ that you are trying to work with.”