Calling it a “Swiss Army knife,” President Obama yesterday signed into law a farming bill that combines a number of initiatives that had been the source of Washington battles for the past two years, including a food stamp program that cuts funding for the poor while at the same time adds more benefits to farmers.
Obama signed the bill at Michigan State University, the alma mater of Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., the chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, who helped broker the hard-fought farm bill compromise after years of setbacks.
Obama said the bill “multitasks” by helping to boost jobs, innovation, research and conservation.
“It’s like a Swiss Army knife,” he joked.
But the president acknowledged that the bill, the result of compromise with the Republicans, was “a very challenging piece of business” that cuts $800 million from the $100 billion-per-year food stamp program at a time when so many poor families across the country are suffering.
Republicans had wanted a bigger cut to the program that aids 1 in 7 Americans, but they went along with the final measure with strong bipartisan support from Democratic and Republican lawmakers from the farming states, which will see generous new subsidies for interests ranging from Southern peanut growers and hemp farmers to the Northeast maple syrup industry.
The bill also expands federal crop insurance, while ending the controversial direct government payments that went to farmers whether they produced anything or not.
While there was considerable Republican support, the GOP continued to treat Obama as a leper, as no Republicans showed up to the bill-signing at Michigan State, where the president was flanked by farm equipment, hay bales and Democratic lawmakers.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said several Republicans were invited, but all declined to attend.
In statements to reporters, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he did not expect the cut of about 1 percent of the food stamp budget to have a significant impact on recipients.
Obama is connecting the signing of the farm bill with a new administration initiative called Made in Rural America, which attempts to connect rural businesses with federal resources that can help sell their products and services abroad. The president is also attempting to counter the presumption that he won’t be able to get anything significant done during 2014 and the remaining years of his presidency.
During his trip, the president had a lunch with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, who took office last month just as his city tries to crawl out of the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.