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Farm Bill Divides South Dakota’s Senators

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In what passes for a bipartisan vote in today’s US Senate, the $100 billion dollar a year farm bill was passed by a tally of 66 to 27. The rare showing of Democratic and Republican camaraderie didn’t translate into a unified South Dakotan front. Senator Thune voted against the bill, while Senator Johnson was for it.

According to Senator Thune’s webpage, his opposition to the bill stems from the inability to have amendments that he favored attached to the text. He is, however, credited with authoring or cosponsoring several amendments that did make it into the final wording.

Most at issue for Thune is that the half of a percent decrease in nutritional assistance called for by the bill does not cut deeply enough for his taste, while keeping in place subsidies for crops such as peanuts and rice that are not grown in South Dakota. Nutritional assistance, including food stamps, makes up approximately 80% of the bills total cost.

There is a sense in which Thune’s opposition to subsidies for crops not grown in South Dakota is respectable. He is, after all, one of South Dakota’s US Senators, and hence his job is to represent the interests of South Dakotans, not necessarily of farmers in other states. It is left to you to decide whether Thune is representing the interests of those South Dakotans who require nutritional assistance.

There is always a rush to include pork barrel spending into bills such as this one, and efforts to keep the cost down for the taxpayers should be made. There is an easy fix here though that ensures that common sense savings don’t fall on the backs of the needy, be they farmers or low income citizens in need: means test the subsidies so that large, profitable operations do not receive them.
The bill includes one such measure. It reduces, not eliminates, the government’s contribution to crop insurance premiums for farmers with a gross income of more than $750,000. It is indeed a very small step, but at least it is in the right direction.

The bill now waits for the Republican controlled House of Representatives to pass one of their own. That version will likely be more in keeping with Senator Thune’s priorities and include deeper cuts to food stamps, no means testing, and oodles of unnecessary spending and corporate giveaways. The GOPs desire to cut the deficit apparently applies only to the part of the farm bill designed to help the poor and hungry.

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