When Otto von Bismarck made his famous comment about sausages and laws being made in the same fashion, he could not have known that his wisdom would be almost literally ground into the new farm bill before Congress.
Of course, Bismarck did not eat catfish. The preservation of a catfish support program was one of the multitude of deals that were made to get a farm bill before the U.S. House of Representatives.
Why catfish? Well, at least in part, it’s because a powerful senator from Mississippi is facing a primary challenge from a tea-party insurgent. To demonstrate his influence, he and other members of the state’s delegation made the catfish farms a national priority in the farm bill.
On and on it went, with even House Speaker U.S. Rep. John Boehner, R- Ohio weighing in for dairy farmers.
The new bill outrages fiscal conservatives from the think tanks, and it does not fully appease the calls for Republicans to cut food stamps — an odd priority in a time of high joblessness.
The GOP had to settle for a 1 percent cut in food stamps, little enough that Democrats would go along, although there were some protests in their ranks and a significant number of votes against the final product.
A Republican architect of the bill, Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, called it a miracle that in today’s Congress a comprehensive farm bill would even get a shot at passage. The House is sharply divided, but it appears that layers of legislative goodies worthy of the world’s largest Christmas tree can get something done. The bill passed 251-166. With almost nothing else getting done in this Congress, it’s likely that the Senate and the president will go along with the House-passed bill.
The irony is that the nation needs a five-year farm bill. It provides some certainty to the industry going forward. In budgetary terms, it’s less costly than some of its predecessors. And the bill does make meaningful steps toward transitioning to crop insurance instead of the long-controversial practice of paying farmers not to farm when there are low prices.
Each benefit, though, must be put into law with a bit of sausage for powerful players in the political process, and each section of the nation has a particular interest it wants to protect, whether rice in Louisiana or wheat in the Midwest — or catfish farms, so important to Mississippi and its senior senator.
Sausage-making at its best.