A most interesting report on the other side of the horrible botched farm bill, from the always-readable Molly Ball, at the Atlantic:
…. The members of the Farm Bureau—an overwhelmingly conservative, strongly Republican group—have traditionally gotten what they wanted, between all that lobbying and politicians’ never-ending appetite for paeans to the nobility of rural life. But these days, thanks to the Tea Party civil war that has stoppered the House of Representatives, that is not the case.
Vilsack laid out the contemporary American farmer’s lament. For more than a year, the agricultural legislation, known as the farm bill, whose implementation is his agency’s major task—the complicated scheme of price supports, crop subsidies, insurance provisions, and food-stamp assistance that undergirds American farming, from feed corn to dairy cows to sugar, peanuts, fruits, and vegetables—has been stalled, the victim (though Vilsack did not put it in these terms) of Republican infighting in the House of Representatives. As a result, a growing season marked by drought, snowstorms, and record cold temperatures had passed without the disaster relief on which farmers have traditionally relied. The Department of Agriculture was unable to fight a trade dispute with the Brazilian government that could threaten farming patents. And while temporary extensions had kept the farm bill from expiring altogether, those, too, would run out on January 31, potentially sending milk prices skyrocketing to as much as $8 per gallon. House Republicans also have blocked farmers’ other major priority, immigration reform, resulting in labor shortages, unpicked crops, and even farms abandoned when there weren’t enough workers to reap their harvest….
The failure of the farmers’ agenda is a familiar tale of Washington gridlock, with familiar players: the small group of conservative obstructionists who seemingly control the House, and the policy consequences of a Republican Party at war with itself. But in this case, the people Republicans have antagonized are among their most loyal constituents. Rural America is the party’s base. Mitt Romney overwhelmingly won its support in 2012, taking 61 percent of rural voters, according to exit polls. (Romney won 58 percent of small-town voters, 50 percent of suburban voters, and just 36 percent of residents of cities with more than 50,000 occupants.) Now the GOP, hamstrung by its right wing’s anti-government zeal, risks breaking faith with its rural stronghold…
Farm lobbyists, finding Republicans no longer receptive to their pleas, have begun to look elsewhere for support. The Texas Farm Bureau, for example, faces two Republican senators—the archconservative Cruz and the minority whip John Cornyn—who have both voted against the farm bill. Shut out in its own state, the Texas bureau has instead begun spreading its political donations to Democrats in other states who work on agriculture issues, including Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, Minnesota Representative Collin Peterson, and Donnelly, of Indiana. The Texas Farm Bureau has also lent financial support to pro-farm Republicans in other states who could be the Lugars of 2014: Thad Cochran of Mississippi, the top Republican on the Senate agriculture committee, and Pat Roberts of Kansas, the committee’s former top Republican, both of whom face Tea Party primary challenges. “In a general sense, yes, less government is better,” the Texas Farm Bureau’s legislative director, Steve Pringle, told me. “But there are certain things that the federal government has to do”—namely immigration policy and the farm bill.
If farm policy was a sleeper issue in some 2012 elections, it stands to be even more influential in 2014. After the farm-bill antics of 2013, farmers are far more frustrated today than they were in 2012. And Democrats in House and Senate contests across the map have picked up the issue, as the prominent agriculture writer Jerry Hagstrom recently noted. Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democrat seeking to unseat Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, has run a television ad accusing him of “hurting Kentucky farmers” by voting against the farm bill. Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas has attacked his opponent, Republican Representative Tom Cotton, for his farm bill vote. I recently received a fundraising email from John Lewis, a Democratic congressional candidate in Montana, that began, “The U.S. House doesn’t care about renewing the farm bill, and Montana’s farming and ranching communities are hurting as a result.”
Some in the farming community hope the Republicans who have betrayed them will finally pay a political price this year. Representative Tim Huelskamp of Kansas represents more farmers than any other congressman, according to Barry Flinchbaugh, a professor of agricultural economics at Kansas State University, who lives in Huelskamp’s district. (Flinchbaugh, a longtime adviser to Congress on farm policy, speaks to hundreds of farm groups every year; his speaker biography says he is “to Ag policy what Tiger Woods is to golf.”) “But he votes no [on the farm bill], because Heritage and the Club for Growth tell him to vote no,” Flinchbaugh told me. “Frankly, he pays more attention to them than he does to the Kansas Farm Bureau. That would have been unheard of even as recently as the 2008 farm bill.”
This month, a local lawyer and former member of the Kansas legislature announced he would challenge Huelskamp in the August Republican primary, calling his run “a patriotic duty.” Agribusiness interests are already lining up behind the challenger. Huelskamp, who ran unopposed in 2012, also has a fairly strong Democratic opponent. Kansas’s first congressional district, a seat that once belonged to Bob Dole, has not elected a Democrat since the 1950s, Flinchbaugh pointed out. “But Congressman Huelskamp is very, very controversial, and his farm bill vote has made a lot of headlines. I think maybe we’re starting to wake up.”…