By Kathleen Hennessey
Tribune Washington Bureau
EAST LANSING, MICH.: Keen to not let a rare legislative accomplishment go unnoticed, President Barack Obama jetted to an agricultural research hub in Michigan on Friday to sign into law a long-delayed farm bill and tout the importance of rural America to the economy.
In his brief trip to Michigan State University, Obama cited the bill as a victory for his economic agenda and a hopeful sign that he could “break the cycle of short-sighted, crisis-driven, partisan decision-making.” His message, however, was undermined by the release of a weak jobs report as well as the decision by Republican lawmakers to snub the president. Though some were invited to attend the unusual destination signing ceremony, according to the White House, none did.
The nearly $1 trillion bill, which had been logjammed for years in a divided Congress, passed this week. The Agricultural Act of 2014 will set policy for the next five years on crop subsidies, nutrition programs, conservation and food stamps. It also includes policies on cockfighting and biofuels, climate change and farmers markets.
In his remarks at the university’s equine performance center, Obama described the legislation as an economic, environmental and agricultural bill rolled into one.
“It’s like a Swiss Army knife. It’s like a Mike Trout,” the president said, referring to the Los Angeles Angels center fielder who is known as a five-tool player for his versatile skills. “It multitasks. It’s creating more good jobs, gives more Americans a shot at opportunity.”
As with most efforts in Washington, the bill had become tangled in the debate over government spending. The final product was a compromise between Republican deficit hawks and Democrats seeking to protect safety-net programs. It cuts food stamps by $8 billion over the next decade, much less than the $40-billion reduction initially approved by the Republican-led House. The law puts an end to direct payments to farmers — a controversial program in which farmers received federal subsidies regardless of their output. The White House had argued that many payments went to wealthy farmers.
No Republican lawmakers attended the signing event, to which the White House said it invited about 50 lawmakers from both parties.