After House Republicans narrowly approved a stripped-down farm bill yesterday, McKay Coppins seemed to chide journalists covering the story. There's a group of people who may care about the farm bill, Coppins argued, and there's a group of people who keep up on politics, but the overlap on the Venn diagram is about 14 Americans.
That may be true, though it suggests to me that those of us in media will have to do a better job to either get those who care about the issue to take an interest in current events, or get those with an interest in current events to care about the issue.
Let's try to put aside some of the inside baseball and make this plain: the farm bill, for decades, has paid for food stamps and subsidies for the agricultural industry. This year, the bill fell apart because House Republicans weren't satisfied that it sufficiently punished poor people who want to eat.
So, yesterday, GOP lawmakers came up with a solution to their problem: they'd give money to the agricultural industry and get back to punishing struggling Americans at some point in the near future. The former would get $195 billion over the next decade; the latter, for now, would get nothing.
Why should anyone care? Well, if you're one of the millions of Americans who rely on some level of public assistance to barely get by, you should care quite a bit -- the same Republicans who are cutting jobless benefits and making it harder for you to vote are now literally interfering with your ability to purchase food.
If you're a taxpayer who cares about national priorities, you might also care that a majority of your U.S. House of Representatives is eager to give your money to agribusinesses, while equally eager to deliberately and consciously ignore the needs of the poor. For decades, the farm bill has been an easy-pass piece of legislation because it tackled both elements at the same time, but as Republicans have become radicalized, they see virtue in rewriting the old rules.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) recently boasted on msnbc, "I'm focused on poverty these days." Yeah, I bet he is. What Paul neglected to mention is that his focus was coming up with new ways to make those in poverty struggle more, not less.
So, what happens now, other than arguments with media professionals about why people should give a darn about this story?
Brad Plumer went through the possibilities:
1) The House could try to reconcile its ag-only bill with the Senate's broader farm bill....2) The House could pass its own food-stamp bill later this month....3) Congress might not agree on any food-stamp bill at all.
Just when it seemed Congress couldn't disappoint any more than it already has, conditions on Capitol Hill become just a little more disheartening.