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Congress farming out common sense

Failed effort at ag reforms shows need to keep fighting

The farm bill is the best example of Washington’s dysfunction, waste and deception. Hoosiers and this Indiana farmer clearly saw that last week when Republicans and Democrats in the House passed a $1 trillion “farm bill” that logrolls separate policies, kills historic reforms and sinks taxpayers further into debt.

For decades, an unholy alliance between food stamps and farm programs has prevented reform and ensured that “must-pass” legislation was moved through Congress with little more than superficial consideration. In true Washington form, Republicans bellowed about wasteful spending in food stamps and Democrats groused about payments to farmers but, in the end, both sides agreed to look the other way and spend more taxpayer money.

Year after year, Hoosiers watched as Washington spent money it never had. But last July when a $1 trillion farm bill, with 80 percent of its spending going to food stamps, came for a vote, I led 61 of my Republican colleagues to defeat business as usual. For the first time in our history, the farm bill failed on the House floor. But because reform takes more than just opposition, I worked to push ahead with common-sense solutions.

Because Congress works best when it works in full view of the American people, I argued, as a farmer, that we should give farm programs and food stamps the separate consideration they deserve. Different policies deserve different votes – it’s as simple as that. It worked.

Hoosier taxpayers got an honest look at how Washington spends their money when we passed the first farm-only farm bill and separate food stamp legislation in nearly 40 years. By working on one program at a time, we were able to make long-lasting reforms that Hoosiers deserve.

I’m proud that the first farm-only farm bill not only eliminated direct payments that manipulate markets but also ended permanent laws that create confusion when Washington stumbles from one manufactured crisis to the next.

I’m also proud that we were able to double taxpayers’ savings and cut $40 billion by shining light on the unhealthy and inefficient food stamp program. Because government checks are no substitute for paychecks, we passed work requirements for able-bodied adults to help families get back on their feet. With one in seven Americans currently on food stamps, this is just common sense.

My colleagues and I upended business as usual by focusing on real reforms. Unfortunately, business as usual fought back.

Instead of continuing our work, four conference committee negotiators worked behind closed doors to remarry food stamps and farm programs into one bill.

By logrolling these separate issues, they killed the best opportunity for long-term reforms. To make things worse, the final farm bill actually cost more than the bill Senate Democrats originally passed.

In the end, we were left with the same failed approach that created this mess. I didn’t come to Congress to sit on the sidelines. Hoosier families, business owners and farmers know that the federal government’s $17 trillion debt is crippling our economy and threatening our children’s future. They know that at home and on the farm, we measure success by results, not by how much Washington spends every year.

Hoosiers want solutions, and that’s exactly what we delivered by separating food stamps from farm programs. Washington’s bad habits die hard but Hoosiers don’t quit. We can still stand up to business as usual, fight for effective, efficient government, and reform our nation’s farm programs.

I stood up to both parties and I’ll do it again. This is a fight hardworking taxpayers deserve.

U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd, is a fourth-generation farmer and serves on the House Committee on Financial Services. He wrote this for Indiana newspapers.