Opinion

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Uncommon Ground

Get to Work Congress

Unless Congress acts the existing Farm Bill sunsets this fall.

Unless Congress acts the existing Farm Bill sunsets this fall. If Congress refuses to pass a new Farm Bill, elected leaders essentially eliminate food stamps – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – for millions of Americans right before the general election in November.

That is just silly.

The Republican-controlled U.S. House may want to eliminate SNAP. Or maybe the Farm Bill with all its benefits for hungry people is destined to become the next grand scheme in reducing national debt.

More likely is that the House wants deep cuts to food programs that target people. The corporate giveaways will undoubtedly remain relatively intact.

SNAP and other food-to-people programs such as Women Infants and Children (WIC), work as they are intended. They deliver food to those with the least among us as a society. SNAP and WIC put food on the plates of hungry kids and families.

In Montana alone nearly 130,000 people buy food with SNAP. And in no other time since the food stamp programs began have Montanans needed more sustenance during difficult economic times.

The U.S. Senate markup of the Farm Bill cuts some $26 billion by consolidation and ending direct farm payments. Farmers are more reliant on crop insurance than ever before.

And a changing climate brings the harsh reality of chaotic weather to farm in. Montana farmers need a reformed crop insurance program that works for small family farms and big operators, not merely another giveaway to big insurance.

The recently stalled Highway Bill – the one that funds the repair of our national infrastructure like roads and bridges – serves as an indication of how little Congress can get done. Citizens have grown to expect long slogs before the House acts, even though the Senate already passed a bipartisan Highway Bill.

With 28,000 construction jobs lost last month, there is a new urgency upon the House to pass a jobs bill that puts people back to work. If jobs were actually the intention of the House, they would have passed the Highway Bill long ago.

But partisan bickering and power brokering in Congress once again trumps practical solutions.

Congress will eventually pass a Farm Bill or some extension of services until after the general election. But who knows how people-friendly the final compromise will be or what the Senate leadership will have to pass – from its chamber – in trade.

Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., was confident in the Senate’s ability to pass a Farm Bill, saying that “we have the 60 votes to proceed.” Last week, she talked about the difficulty of moving the bill in preparation for the fall deadline.

The embarrassing Citizens United decision, by the conservative U.S. Supreme Court, opened the tidal wave of secret and corporate money into local elections. But more nefarious than the actual secret money into politics is how Congress became radically less people friendly.

The nation and Montana need leadership from the House. Congressional leaders had better pass a Farm Bill that feeds hungry families. And the House must pass a Highway Bill that puts construction workers back to work.

If our current crop of candidates are not up to the job of helping hungry people or rebuilding roads, then contenders are applying for the wrong job. Montanans need elected leaders who are willing to get things done.

Naysayers are good at bickering and quarrelling. Negativism can succinctly illuminate all the problems facing society. But naysayers rarely get anything done.

It is time for America to move forward.

An optimistic outlook for America, coupled with a willingness to work together, will put healthy food onto the table of hungry children and construction workers back onto the highways rebuilding our crumbling national infrastructure.