THE DETAILS OF federal food and agriculture policy have always been notoriously complex. The politics, though, have not.
Every five years Congress passed a farm bill that represented a deal between urban and rural states. The city folk got food stamps to help the urban poor (and the grocery chains that sell to them) and the rural folk got subsidies for commodity producers, as well as the boost in demand from food stamps. A few urban reformers would ritualistically protest handouts to wealthy farmers; a few rural conservatives would protest handouts to the dependent poor. But, in the end, a deal got done.
That’s starting to change. The rise of a Republican-majority House tilted toward the tea party, coupled with the doubling of food-stamp spending since the Great Recession, has set off a movement to curtail that $80 billion-a-year program. The House Agriculture Committee’s proposed renewal of the farm bill includes a $20 billion food-stamp cut over the next 10 years. “We represent the people’s money, and we have to be good stewards of that,” said committee member Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.). Never mind that Mr. Fincher received a $70,000 farm subsidy in 2012, according to the Environmental Working Group. (Through a spokeswoman, Mr. Fincher declined comment.)