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Opening Arguments

Farm bill, Part 2

I guess 3rd District Rep. Marlin Stuzman is a little put out with me. The editorial I wrote criticizing the House version of the farm bill was posted online at 8:30 yesterday morning, and his communications director called me from Washington less than two hours later. This was the part that especially irked them:

As the watchdog conservative group the Heritage Foundation put it, GOP legislators “wasted the golden opportunity that separation could have provided: the ability to promote policies that benefit taxpayers, farmers and consumers … With the passage of this bill, the House has gone even further to the left than the Senate bill. It would spend more money than Obama on the largest farm program, crop insurance.”

The Heritage Foundation, Stutzman's office said, originally supported the bill's goal of separating farm and food stamp programs, but then "raised the bar" in its criticism of the final version. Furthermore, conservative victories are so few and far between in Washington that when one comes along, consevative c ritics (like me) should celebrate, not nitpick because the result isn't perfect.

OK, that's a fair point. If I were a conservative legislator trying to get bills passed and having to worry about re-election, I'd probably settle for incrementalism, too. You take what you can get, and fight for the rest another day. It's counterproductive for those on the right to snipe at each other while those on the left remain unified.

But I'm not a legislator. I've been a looking-in-from-the-outside small-government advocate and critic of federal spending for 30 years, and my editorial page has been a critic of farm policy for at least 20, so I didn't pull my complaints out of thin air. What I've seen of incrementalism is that is always favors the left. Incrementalism comes from compromise, which means the liberal still gets his government growth, just a little slower than he wants. The conservative never gets his goal of stopping the growth or, heaven forbid, even rlling it back.

I appreciate what Stuzman achieved in breaking apart farm and food stamp polices, I really do. But that's a temporary victory, or even a symbolic one. The two programs are not going to stay separated, which I think even Marlin understands, even if he doesn't especially like the idea.