Farm Bill: Adventures In Sausagemaking.

For those of us who have breakfasted often in Britain and Ireland, we might love black and white pudding sausages, but we tend not to think about how sausages are made if we want to keep from vomiting.

Among the occupations on this columnist’s resume was a stint as a budget analyst at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington during the mid-1990s. Yes, the last time we tried to wean agribusiness off the Federal gravy train. The economy was booming back during the Clinton Administration, and, not surprisingly, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (neé “Food Stamps”) budget was much smaller then.

Farm Bill - farm tractor in midwestAmerica is not homogenous. The East Coast urbanites trying to keep children fed in difficult times have different priorities than the Midwest small town farming communities do. Protecting icky-looking farmed catfish, peanuts, or rice from cheap foreign imports is largely a concern of the Deep South. The Wisconsin dairy farmer wants a stable market for milk and cheese which rarely crosses the mind of Los Angelenos beyond the supermarket. Water for California’s productive Central Valley means we can have fruits and vegetables year-round.  It’s not Rodeo Drive or Silicon Valley.

Being a wiseguy, I jokingly had a photo of a Lego farm tacked to the corkboard of my cubicle. USDA was and remains much more than about farms and food stamps. It promotes U.S. agricultural exports. It brought electricity and telecommunications to rural expanses of the nation.  Made home, farm, and business loans in areas the banking industry rarely ventured into. It’s probably why the satellite photos of Middle America don’t resemble North Korea at night, with only the prisons lit up like Christmas trees.

USDA inspects and protects the food supply, sparing the public the less delightful food-borne illnesses which keep one uncomfortably perched atop the potty.

Government, through affordable crop insurance and subsidies, attenuates wild market swings for food commodities. Boom or bust cycles had practically killed off the stereotypical small, family farm. Guys like Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.) want you to think of the famous 1930s Depression-era barefoot, impoverished Okie farm family as HIS family rakes in millions in farm subsidies. Even Tea Party lame duck doyenne Rep. Michele “Fact-Free Diet” Bachmann (R-Minn.) raked in tens of thousands of dollars in subsidies for the old family farm long since left astern for running a “pray away the gay” “Christian counseling” practice with sashaying hubby Marcus. They are about as much of a “struggling family farmer” as Willie Nelson. Do we really need to give big agribusiness multimillionaires welfare, while swiping food off the least fortunate family tables?

Congress, from its birth, was designed as an exercise in compromise. It pretty much worked over the last couple of centuries, with the paralysis of the last few years under the unruly John Boehner’s Happy Hour GOP Big Tent being less popular than the Ebola virus.  The Farm Bill is a big, once every five years affair. It means “playing well with others,” with an eye on the “big picture;” something that Grand Inquisitor Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) didn’t get passing marks on in Kindergarten. Issa probably was named “Most Likely To Stab You In the Back and Steal Your Car” in his Cleveland high school yearbook.

The Farm Bill sausage making is an exercise in coalition-building; participants emerge with some of what they want, and hold their noses on some that they abhor. It’s the business of a diverse nation.

P.S.:  I still have a yen for the canned government surplus peanut butter I devoured aboard a submarine thirty-odd years ago. It was at my boy scout camp before that. It came from a USDA commodity price stabilization program which freed peanut farmers from “boom and bust” extremes of the so-called “free market.” “Socialist” Skippy: It’s yummy!