Back in July, when the Farm Bill imploded, I wrote about the historical compact between urban and rural pols that arose in the late 1930’s and had sustained both agricultural subsidies and nutrition assistance ever since. Basically, by putting nutrition assistance in the Farm Bill, farmers could depend on urban politicians to support the overall bill, and by tying food stamps to agricultural subsidies, urban politicians could rely on rural politicians to support nutrition assistance. That is the compact that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor decided to destroy when he pushed a Farm Bill that contained no funds for nutrition whatsoever. Unsurprisingly, the Farm Bill lost its urban support and went nowhere.

The Farm Bill is still a dead parrot, but the House just passed a separate bill called the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act that would, if enacted, “slash about $39 billion in funding [for nutrition assistance] over the next decade, cut aid to about 4 million Americans in the next few years and shift the burden of providing aid to some of the nation’s poor to state governments.”

It would also threaten agricultural subsidies, which may not bother you. It only bothers me because, if left to stand, it would spell the end of a compact that has worked well to prevent malnutrition in this country for almost 80 years.

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Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at