Imagine I go once again to my favorite deli and I prepare to engage in a transaction with the guy behind the counter – he’ll give me a sandwich and I’ll give him $5. But there’s a small problem after he makes the sandwich: I decide maybe I don’t really want to give him the money after all.
“Look,” I tell the guy, “both of us agree that I should get the sandwich. You’ve already made it; it’s right there on the counter; so this is clearly an area of consensus. Instead of bickering, let’s focus on our common ground – I’ll eat the sandwich, and we can argue about the $5 later. You can disagree, but you’re being needlessly divisive.”
In Congress, Democrats are the guy behind the counter.
House Republican leaders have decided to drop food stamps from the farm bill and are whipping the farm-only portion of the bill for a vote that will likely come this week, according to a GOP leadership aide.
The nutrition portion of the bill would be dealt with later.
The farm bill, in a general sense, is a big compromise – the left gets food stamps for poor families struggling to eat, while the right gets support for the agricultural industry. It’s this win-win scenario that makes the bill so easy to pass, year in and year out.
In 2013, however, the farm bill failed when Republicans balked at the compromise. The new solution from GOP leaders is to break the bill apart – the right will approve support for agribusinesses now, and go about the process of gutting food assistance for struggling families later.
Or put another way, they intend to just eat the sandwich and worry about the $5 some other time.
Now, as a legislative strategy, this may fail anyway. Most Democrats, not surprisingly, have no interest in this new approach, and as of last night, even many rank-and-file Republicans weren’t sure about approving a bill featuring nothing but farm pork (so to speak).
But while we wait for the resolution on this, let’s pause to appreciate how often this style of negotiation comes up – because Republicans always want to take the sandwich without paying the $5.
In deficit reduction talks, for example, President Obama effectively told GOP leaders, “We can reach a balanced compromise with spending cuts and increased revenue.” Republicans responded, “Clearly spending cuts are the area of consensus, while revenue is controversial, so let’s focus on where we agree and cut spending.”
On immigration, Democrats have said, “We’ll give you increased border security if you agree to a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.” The GOP replies, “Since we agree on border security, let’s focus on just that and worry about the more contentious other stuff later.”
This might sound like its intended in jest, but it’s actually quite sincere: watching these discussions is like watching an adult struggling to reach an agreement with a child who literally doesn’t understand what a compromise is.