Surprise, surprise. The deeply divided Senate reached bipartisan agreement on a massive new, nearly $1 trillion farm bill, passing it Thursday by a comfortable 64-35 vote.
That prompted normally dour Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell to call the new farm bill "one of the finest moments in the Senate in recent times in terms of how you pass a bill."
That is rather low praise when you think about it because passing these bills is what Congress is supposed to do. The tip-off was perhaps his use of the phrase "recent times," times of acrimony, intransigence and hyper-partisanship.
It didn't hurt that the bill was forcefully backed on both sides of the aisle by the farm lobby, one of Washington's most powerful, and it contained a huge food stamp component that appeals to urban lawmakers.
It doesn't diminish the success of the Senate in passing a bill, even one with many flaws, to point out that the lawmakers have known they had to do this since 2008, Considered one of Washington's more wasteful programs, it has withstood numerous challenges including a veto by President George W. Bush; 82 senators voted against him.
The bill, its backers say, will save $23 billion over 10 years, a pittance compared to the deficit but at least it's a start.
By far, the largest part of the farm bill is $768 billion over 10 years for food stamps, a program on which spending has doubled in the past five years and the number of beneficiaries grown by 70 percent to 45 million.6 comments on this story
The House begins work in July on its own version of the farm bill, where some members will balk at the cost of food stamps and others will have to reconcile the difference in subsidy mechanisms between Midwestern corn and soybean farmers and Southern peanut and rice growers.
If the "rue or ruin" caucus in the House prevails and there is no farm bill passed by the end of the year, The Wall Street Journal says some farm policies will automatically revert to laws passed in the '30s and '40. The Tea Party would then be able to unfurl a new slogan, "Leading the nation backward since 2008."