Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

August 4, 2013

Jack Lessenberry: Farm bill critical for state's success

For weeks, the looming Detroit bankruptcy has literally been the monster of all Michigan stories, dominating the news almost to the point of crowding out everything else.

Yet just as there is more to the state’s economy than cars, there are more things at stake than the fate of Michigan’s devastated largest city. You might not guess it from the recent coverage, but Michigan agriculture is a $72 billion business — by most measures, the second-largest component of the state’s economy.

For weeks, a drama has been playing out in Washington involving this year’s farm bill, a drama far from over, but one which seems likely to have a once-unlikely heroine: U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

The daughter of a small-town car salesman, Stabenow, a 63-year-old former folk singer and social worker, has become perhaps Congress’ most highly respected voice on agriculture.

She has so thrown herself into mastering the complex world of farm policy that the normally Republican Michigan Farm Bureau endorsed her for a third term last year, one factor in her nearly one million vote landslide victory.

The farm bill is something critically important to more than just those who sit astride tractors. It traditionally has covered everything from food stamps and other nutrition programs to crop insurance and various conservation efforts.

Getting a bill done in a timely fashion is important, perhaps especially now, following last year’s devastating drought. Traditionally, farm bill squabbles have been more regional than partisan, with various sections wanting to make sure their particular interests and crops were adequately represented and protected.

But in today’s Washington, little goes on that is not ideological. The Republican-controlled House embarrassed Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and itself in June by rejecting what was supposed to be a bipartisan farm bill. A large faction of Republicans voted against it because they felt it did not cut money for food stamps enough.

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