Emanuel Cleaver II was leaving the U.S. Capitol on Thursday when someone asked him what had just happened when the House, in a surprise to many, voted down what was considered a non-controversial farm bill.
“I said, ‘We didn’t vote on a farm bill,” Congressman Cleaver recounted Friday. “We voted on dysfunctionality, and dysfunctionality won, and that’s what’s going in Washington.”
Cleaver, a Kansas City Democrat whose district includes most of Eastern Jackson County, has not hidden his frustration with how Congress acts, and he shared those frustrations again Friday during a legislative update held by the Independence Chamber of Commerce.
“The farm bill was doomed because of all the dysfunctionality. ... Compromise has become confrontation,” he said.
Both the House and Senate have come up with five-year farm bills that cut subsidies and cut the food stamp program, today known as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program. SNAP accounts for about 80 percent of the money in the farm bill. About 43 million people get food stamps.
Cleaver said he had decided “to hold my nose and vote yes on the farm bill,” but late changes that he said unfairly targeted SNAP recipients, such as drug tests, caused him to change his mind. Most Democrats voted no, as did dozens of Republicans who argued the cuts didn’t go far enough.
The result was a defeat on a vote of 234-195. Eastern Jackson County’s other congressman, Sam Graves of Tarkio, voted yes, as did Missouri’s other five Republicans. Missouri’s other Democrat, Lacy Clay of St. Louis, voted no.
Cleaver said the nation’s founders understood that compromise is essential in politics and governance, an idea that held for a long time. There is a different attitude among many of the newer members of the House, he said:
“I wasn’t sent here to compromise. I was sent here to win.”
Tom Salisbury, an aide to Sen. Roy Blunt, said SNAP, which accounts for such a large portion of the farm bill, needs discussion, and he said there is some fraud and abuse, as there is in any federal or state program.
Sarah Woodward, an aide to Graves, provided an example. She said a grocery chain owner in the congressman’s district documented instances of people using SNAP – it’s like a debit card, with restrictions programmed into it so you can’t buy liquor, junk food or even toilet paper – to buy milk in glass bottles, then pouring out the milk and coming back into the store to get cash for the deposit on the bottles. Graves got a provision into the farm bill to put the deposit back on the SNAP card for groceries, not cash.
Salisbury noted that the Senate has been working on a major overhaul of immigration law. He said Blunt is sticking firmly to one key point.
Page 2 of 2 - “He has always made it very clear ... that any bill ... needs to have a foundation of border security,” Salisbury said. He also added that even if the Senate gets a bill passed, it could meet the same fate as the farm bill in the House.
Cleaver, Graves, Blunt and Sen. Claire McCaskill have made common cause in getting the centennial celebration of World War I held in Kansas City, an effort Cleaver has spearheaded. He said it will be like the dedication of the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City in 1926, an event attended by most of the Allied military leaders from the war as well as President Calvin Coolidge.
“We had 100,000 people, if you can believe it,” Cleaver said.
There is still an effort to designate the Liberty Memorial as the nation’s official World War I memorial. There are about 100 memorials around the country “and none of them is even one-tenth as majestic as the Liberty Memorial,” Cleaver said.