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Editorial: In praise of GOP flexibility on Farm Bill

The Left has its blind spots. One of them came into plain view last week: After the State Department concluded — again — that neither blocking nor approving the Keystone XL pipeline would significantly affect greenhouse-gas emissions, key anti-Keystone activists vowed … to fight on.

In the minds of these activists, the theory that the pipeline is an implement of destruction is proving to be impervious to facts. But the activists should know that this blind faith hurts their credibility.

For if they cling to this theory in the face of repeated findings that it’s wrong, why should Americans take seriously the theory that the activists clutch even more tightly: the theory of catastrophic, man-made global warming itself?

Of course, some on the far Right also hold fast to their beliefs in the face of contrary evidence from the Real World. And one of those instances came into plain view last week, too.

A headline from 2012 captures this conflict with an anguished cry: “Why are Republicans supporting the Farm Bill?”

For the fact of the matter is, of course, that the Farm Bill flies against conservative principles, as the column decries. And not just in the bill’s food-stamp provisions, either – for if the bill’s agriculture portion jettisoned all supports and rebooted to a system of free-market agriculture, conservatives at least could claim they’d won a key compromise.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, both the food-stamp and agricultural portions of the bill distort the market, the latter through crop-insurance subsidies and other programs.

“This is hardly the ‘free market’ environment that many Republicans have told us they want to encourage,” the column fumes. And the Heritage Foundation, the Club for Growth, the Cato Institute and other keepers of the flame agree.

So, why are Republicans supporting the Farm Bill – and by a huge majority in the U.S. House, where Republicans members backed the measure 162-63?

Many critics point to Big Ag, big donors and other cynical ways of explaining away votes. But the Farm Bill has been around since the Depression. It’s a product of the New Deal, and it’s still with us decades after the Works Progress Administration, Civilian Conservation Corps and other FDR-era initiatives have disappeared.

Big Ag can’t account for that longevity. What can?

The best explanation may be the same one that decodes Social Security’s continuing popularity: These programs work. They do what they’re supposed to do. Social Security hugely improved the lives of America’s seniors; and the Farm Bill helped make life in rural America much better than it had been before.

As a country, we’ve seen life with Social Security and life without it – and the “with” side wins in a walk. That’s why there’s much talk of reform and much of refinancing, but no appetite whatsoever for turning back.

Likewise, we’ve seen life with the Farm Bill and life without it. One is better than the other, and for rural and urban Americans alike.

That’s why – through Republican and Democratic presidencies, through Republican and Democratic Congresses – Farm Bills have been a staple of American life since 1933.

In short, farming is one aspect of American life in which the interventionists are right and the free-marketeers are wrong, at least in the eyes of American voters for 81 years. Kudos to the Farm Bill’s GOP supporters for recognizing this reality.

Here’s hoping they put facts ahead of libertarian faith on other issues, too.


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