Back during campaign season I did an interview with Rep. Kevin Cramer, and we talked about the farm bill. Then, as now, the legislation was stuck in the midst of partisan bickering and I asked Cramer if there was really a lot of urgency to pass a farm bill (I quoted a NDSU farm management specialist as saying he didn’t understand what all the rush was about), and he said there wasn’t.
Farmers will still farm, people will still eat, without a farm bill.
At the time, I was very satisfied with Cramer’s answer. It seemed like he was cutting through a lot of the political garbage around this legislation and was willing to acknowledge that a lot of the “crisis” was politicians grandstanding, and reporters trying to write interesting copy. And he got slammed over it too. His opponent, Democrat Pam Gulleson, made a big deal out of it.
But flash forward almost a year, and Rep. Cramer is singing a much different tune on the farm bill. According to the Fargo Forum, Cramer is blaming “extremists” in both parties for the failure of the farm bill, and suggesting that we must pass the imperfect legislation because allowing farmers to operate in a free market would be “disastrous.”
It would be “disastrous” to allow the farm bill to expire at the end of the year, Cramer said. That would mean reverting to the original law, which dates back to 1949, and would mean price spikes for consumers for milk, wheat and corn.
If a farm bill doesn’t pass, the sugar program, important to the Red River Valley economy, is in jeopardy, he said.
Although the price of sugar in the United States is comparatively cheap, ranking among the bottom fifth, the program is controversial and likely wouldn’t pass on its own, Cramer said.
“Sugar’s one of the things that requires a lot of heavy lifting to keep intact,” he said. “It has to be in the context of a broader bill.”
The sugar program that requires “heavy lifting” is pure protectionism that inflates prices for domestic sugar producers while protecting them from foreign competition. It requires “heavy lifting” because it’s grade-a corporate welfare, and the sort of thing conservatives like Cramer are supposed to be against.
And the same goes for the rest of the programs in the farm bill. We live in a modern economy where the biggest nutrition problem facing our society isn’t starvation but obesity. So are these farm programs really about keeping food prices down, or keeping farming profits up?
Keep in mind that 80% of the farm bill is food stamps, and a lot of that remaining 20% has little to do with little farming. If this were really about farmers, they’d carve out the actual farm legislation and pass that on its own merits. But that’s not good politics. It’s hard to pass corporate welfare and entitlement spending unless it’s bolted on to something voters are a lot more sympathetic to.
And that’s frustrating. What killed the farm bill in the House was amendments offered by Republicans which would have put the brakes on skyrocketing food stamps enrollments by toughening work requirements. That’s a debate we should have. Dependence on food stamps is a major problem. But because food stamps don’t get an up or down vote on their own merits, we can’t have an honest debate about them.
What Cramer is doing is no doubt good farm state politics, but it’s disappointing for a man who can usually be counted on to be recklessly, refreshingly honest.
Here’s Rep. Cramer explaining himself on 6:30 POV with Chris Berg, and almost seeming to distance himself from conservatives: