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Other Views: Farm bill optimism still alive

Congressman Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., is discouraged by the defeat of the farm bill in the U.S. House of Representatives, but he's still optimistic. That might sound like a contradiction, but Cramer, now six months as North Dakota's lone member of the House, thinks there is too much at stake in the new bill to allow it to die.

Here's hoping he's right.

If the bill is lost in the House (the Senate has passed a sensible, balanced bill), there are a couple of fallback options, none of them good. The first is extending the extension of the current farm bill. The second is no extension and reversion to the 1949 base farm support program on which farm legislation has been built for decades. Both options are bad news for farmers, consumers and Americans who depend on nutrition programs.

Extension of the current bill next year would be only that: another extension of undetermined length. Unpredictability in support programs is not what farm lenders want to see. Secondly, would-be reformers in the House and Senate would end up with no reforms. Cuts in food stamp benefits and direct payments to farmers would not happen.

With no new farm bill and no extension of the old one, the farm program would revert to the base 1949 ag program. Because of outdated crop support formulas in the old law, prices for many major commodities could skyrocket. For example, one analysis predicts retail milk prices would double.

As Cramer noted in a meeting with The Forum's Editorial Board, there is plenty of blame to go around in the House's surprising defeat of the farm bill. When the votes were tallied, 172 Democrats joined 62 Republicans in turning down the five-year bill.

The bipartisan mistake came about in part, said Cramer, because individual members had narrow agendas and voted those agendas rather than support the compromise legislation. Democrats didn't like food stamp cuts. Republicans defied their leadership -- Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor -- and voted "no." The Republican revolt was startling because Boehner and Cantor supported the bill, a first for them.

It's a mess. It's confirmation of the ideological-driven paralysis in Congress, most evident in the House. Cramer, who voted for the bill despite flaws, said he came to Congress to get things done, not to stymie the lawmaking process. "More discouraged than I've ever been," he said.

Still, the freshman congressman is hopeful. He believes a deal still can be struck. We hope so. Farmers, ag lenders and the businesses and small-town main streets that depend on a stable farm economy are waiting.