July 25, 2014

Congressman Fortenberry calls Farm Bill process “a fiasco” (AUDIO)

Partisan politics invades a traditionally non-partisan bill, much to the dismay of a Nebraska Congressman.

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry cannot believe what happened to the Farm Bill.

“Well, the whole process has been a fiasco.”

Fortenberry, once a member of the House Agriculture Committee, and now on the Appropriations Committee, had high hopes for the bill approved by the House Agriculture Committee. It, though, didn’t have the votes last month and failed to pass the House.

The rare defeat for House Republican leaders led them to devise an alternative path to passage, one that inflamed emotions and sparked a partisan uproar. Republican leadership separated agriculture policy from the nutrition portion of the bill, primarily the food stamp program. Democrats cried foul. None voted for it. A few Republicans resisted and voted against. It finally passed on a 216-208 vote.

Fortenberry lamented that a previously bipartisan measure became entangled in the increasingly divided politics of Washington.

“So, you would prefer that agriculture not become a vehicle for political divide and, unfortunately, you saw that this time,” Fortenberry tells Nebraska Radio Network.

Fortenberry says the failure of the full Farm Bill in the House shocked him. He says it took shape during an open process that hammered out real reform on both sides of the Farm Bill. It capped federal crop payments to couples at $250,000. It shaved $40 billion over 10 years from the food stamp program.

The version approved by the Senate cuts only $4 billion total from food stamps.

Fortenberry says the tactic used by House leadership makes it much less likely that the House will be in a strong position to argue for deeper cuts to the food stamp program. House leaders have vowed to pursue a separate food stamp bill.

Though he’s not sure whether the Farm Bill episode reflects deepening divide between Republicans and Democrats or whether it was just a release of pent-up frustration, Fortenberry says he understands how this latest episode reflects on Congress.

“The fact that it fell apart in the end and we weren’t able to find some balanced, constructive, reasonable way to move forward, I’m afraid it does add to the cynicism toward Congress that is very high at the moment.”

AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:50]