The passage of a farm subsidy and nutrition assistance bill that has been stalled in Congress for nearly two years might be another sign that partisan gridlock in Washington is thawing, if only a little.
If so, it bodes well for a nascent trend toward a climate of compromise that otherwise has seemed a relic of past eras. The farm subsidy measure passed the House and is on to the Senate, where it also is expected to pass. Up next are contentious measures on immigration reform, a continuation of budget negotiations and a vote on the nation’s debt ceiling.
The farm bill may be a precursor to further widening of legislative arteries, but it certainly does not signal any formal truce in the ideological warfare at the heart of recent stubbornness and obstructionism. The farm bill found itself bogged down for several Congressional sessions as parties wrangled over how much food stamp funding would be cut from the budget as part of its passage.
Republicans wanted about $40 billion in cuts, while Democrats were loathe to any reductions. As it came to pass, the bill will cut spending by about $8 billion. For those who like to keep score, both sides get points – Republicans because actual and not-insubstantial cuts were made; Democrats because the cuts are not considered, by their definition, draconian, and were coupled in the bill with increased funding to food pantry programs.
The real victory belongs to the larger constituency of frustrated Americans tired of seeing even routine legislative matters stalled as parties thrust and parry over ideological style points. To the extent that such brinkmanship is taking a back seat to a more prudent approach to governing, everyone is better off.
We shall soon see whether that’s indeed the case. Within a month, Congress should vote again on whether to raise the debt ceiling. The last time the matter arose, there were lawmakers who wanted to make the debt limit – as well as budget approval — contingent on changes to some of Obamacare more damaging parts. It was a strategy many political analysts say backfired because its adherents lacked the numbers to get their way. But the underlying political motivations for the strategy remain, and ideologues on both party’s edges are likely to remain defiant to any significant compromise.
But the farm bill passage comes after the bipartisan approval in early January of a $1.1 trillion appropriations measure. The two successes may signal a breakthrough in the political atmosphere and, as such, a welcome return to a more traditional climate of governing in which the middle ground enjoys a larger measure of influence in the give and take of competing ideologies.