Here's my latest, in our local newspaper:
For fun, let’s examine the failure of our Congressional do-America-prouders to pass a farm bill. And before you turn to the comics (I go there first), let me reassure your receding interest that this isn’t about the farm bill: it’s about the dysfunction of our politicians and the system in which they “work.” The farmalogical failure just happens to shine a brighter light on the stupidity and cynicism of it all than anything we’ve seen lately. Well, except gun control. Or immigration. Or women’s rights. Or the budget.
The timing is amusing. Congressional Republicans, averse as they are to compromise and the kind of bipartisanship that might reflect it, have lately been haggling amongst themselves about reanimating the so-called “Hastert rule,” which says that no legislation should be brought forth that doesn’t have majority support in the majority (i.e., Republican) party. The purpose is to prevent the minority (i.e., Democrats) from being able to bring legislation to a vote. It’s one of those things that you like if your party is in the majority. (Hastert was once a Republican Speaker of the House.)
Comes the farm bill, always porcine and controversial; but because it has something for everyone – food stamps for the poor, subsidies for the rich – both sides, awash in bipartisan bonhomie, have traditionally jumped on it like a bull in a candy store. The Senate version passed easily. Not so the House of horrors. Quintupling the Senate cuts to food stamps, perhaps unaware of the employment crisis and that most people on food stamps need them because they can’t find jobs that pay enough, tea-partitioned Rs tossed in requirements that people must work to qualify for them; unconcerned (proud, more likely) that they’ll be causing around two million Americans to go hungry. Whatever the politics of “the welfare state,” such heartlessness and selfishness is shocking, even given the radical lack of concern for the non-wealthy of today’s Congressional Republicans. (They rejected cutting giveaways to big farmers. Naturally.)
Predictably, most Democrats walked away because of that last-minute work requirement, and Republicans, enough to kill the bill, bailed because they wanted even more cuts. I have no comment on the wisdom of or need for farm subsides, or about why food stamps are tied to the farm bill at all. (Food stamps originated in another universe, with Republican Bob Dole and Democrat George McGovern, who didn’t agree on much, concurring that hunger in America blights us all.) Anyhow, here’s what happened next: Republican House leaders John “Wait up! I’m your leader” Boehner and Eric “Wait your turn, Paul Ryan” Cantor both voted for the bill, and were surprised when people in their party abandoned it. And whereas they’ve worn like a badge of honor their disdain for Democratic ideas and their disinterest in cooperation with them on anything, now they screamed like younger siblings when not enough Ds agreed to the drasticity of their cuts to the poor. At which point Nancy “That IS my smile” Pelosi blamed the whole debacle on a failure of Republican leadership. Specifically, she called it “amateur hour.” A generous characterization, I’d call it.
If that’s not enough to invoke a nationwide face-palm, there’s this: making excuses for their failure to pass their own bill, some House Republicans said, well, we voted “no” because it was a lousy bill. While blaming its failure on Democrats. Get that? We didn’t like our own bill, and darn those Democrats for not voting for it. In the final act, as political soothsayers proclaimed a major embarrassment for Boehner, Harry “I slept through elocution class” Reid turned the political screws, announcing there’d be no face-saving temporary farm bailout while the House festers, suggesting they take up the Senate bill. House leaders, back on their game, said no way that’s gonna happen.
This circus ought to convince us all of the fecklessness that’s overtaken Congress, especially the House of Representatives. You’ll be surprised that I assign the majority of blame to Republicans, hide-bound and ideologically averse as they are to compromise and bipartisanship, and, since Ronald Reagan, having no new ideas beyond cutting spending on the poor and lowering taxes on the wealthy. The Senate version had cuts in it that Ds weren’t happy with, yet forty of them agreed to it anyway. But the House teabag wing wanted even more, happy to embarrass their leaders in the process. At what point does their naked deference to the wealthy and contempt for the poor become too much, even for their own voters?