Congress was extremely dysfunctional in 2013 as a small group of extremist members held the process hostage. However, 2014 gives us reason to be hopeful â€“- especially after passage of the farm bill last week.
The farm bill, which shouldâ€™ve been passed nearly two years ago by the last Congress, passed with a bipartisan vote of 251-166. This follows the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 that passed Congress in December and a bipartisan omnibus appropriations bill that passed earlier this month. It seems that people are finally buckling down, talking to each other, and working together.
By contrast, last year was a disastrous year by nearly any measure. Important legislation was hijacked for purely partisan purposes. The relationships among House members were strained, the relationship with the Senate was worse. And the relationship with the White House was worse still.
Farmers, ranchers, and ordinary citizens from all walks of life paid the price for this nonsensical and hyper-partisan drama. A group of “conservativesâ€ forced a government shutdown — but paid employees and other expenses anyway. Thus, federal employees were paid and not allowed to work. How is that “conservative?â€
The new farm bill represents a good compromise. For the right, it contains common sense reforms that will save billions of tax dollars over the next decade. Many programs are streamlined or consolidated.
On the left, over 4 million people, many of them veterans, children or seniors, will not lose their SNAP benefits. Cuts to SNAP amount to $8.6 billion instead of the $40 billion cut initially passed by the House.
The legislation is critical to Texas. It deals with insurance for farmers and ranchers to research and education and school lunches to assistance to small, rural communities across America. The bill is not perfect. No legislative product ever is. There are some things, like the “country of originâ€ provisions, that make many in the cattle industry see red. And, these provisions must be improved.
The farm bill originally failed to pass the House. Thus, final passage of the bill now brings closure and certainty to the agriculture community for the next five years. Thatâ€™s important because our agriculture industry is important. Food doesnâ€™t come from the grocery store. It comes from farms and ranches across Texas and the country. And, with passage of the farm bill, itâ€™s good to know that Congress finally realized that.
U.S. Representative Pete P. Gallego represents the 23rd District of Texas, which includes all or parts of 29 counties in southwest Texas, stretching from San Antonio to El Paso. He serves on the House Armed Services and House Agriculture Committees.