The farm bill, which sets US agricultural subsidies for five years at a time and is up for renewal this year, isn’t normally a party-line issue. Lawmakers from rural areas and particularly senators from agrarian states unite across party lines to fleece the taxpayer. Urban congressmen are bought off with food stamps for their poorer voters – now given the ironically unsnappy name of Snap, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – which actually makes up more than three-quarters of total spending under the bill.
It might be a sordid trade-off, but it generally produces consensus. Not so this year: while a bipartisan bill easily passed the House of Representatives agriculture committee (dominated by rural types), Republican leader John Boehner dared not put it to a vote of the full House, or even pass a one-year extension of the current programmes. Read more