Week In News: Farm Bill Without The Food Stamps

The House of Representatives on Thursday passed their version of the Farm Bill without the food stamp provision that's been a part of the bill for decades. Host Jacki Lyden speaks with James Fallows of The Atlantic about why the two have been linked in the first place.

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JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.

REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN YODER: The yeas are 216, the nays are 208. The bill is passed.

REPRESENTATIVE MARLIN STUTZMAN: Farm policy and food stamp policy should not be mixed. They should stand on their own merits.

REPRESENTATIVE NANCY PELOSI: You are taking food out of the mouths of your own poor constituents.

REPRESENTATIVE CORRINE BROWN: Mitt Romney was right, you all do not care about the 47 percent. Shame on you.

LYDEN: The voices of Republicans Kevin Yoder and Marlin Stutzman and Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Corrine Brown reacting to the House's passage of their version of the farm bill on Thursday, which strips the food stamp provision. James Fallows of The Atlantic joins us, as he does most Saturdays. Hi there, Jim.

JAMES FALLOWS: Hello, Jacki.

LYDEN: So let's begin by asking the same question a lot of the Republicans in the House asked, and that is why were those two provisions linked in the first place? Remind us, food stamps and the farm bill.

FALLOWS: Right. The answer, it can't be found in the realm of logic but in political history and compromise. Starting, you know, half a century ago back in the 1960s, the idea was to build support for two dissimilar programs: the farm support payment program, which stabilized incomes and guaranteed prices for America's farmers and the food stamp program, which underwrote benefits to poor Americans, now about 46 million people who get food subsidies of about $130 a month. To combine those into one package, which could build support north and south, rural and urban, Democrat and Republican.

And that had been the model until really last month when the Republic-controlled House was not able to pass the bill at all, even though it had the majority. And so they stripped it down to the part of the program that the Republicans supported more, which was the benefit payments to farmers, and removed this food stamp program, which had been there, again, for a very long time.

One way or another, I think the food stamp program will survive, but it was a sign of how different an approach this year's Congress is taking from decades past.

LYDEN: Yeah. Jim, we all know, I think, that you're an aviation buff. And when yet another one of Boeing's Dreamliners caught fire yesterday, this time at Heathrow Airport, I immediately thought of you, I want you to know. So why are these things still in the air?

FALLOWS: Well, obviously, this episode at Heathrow was bad news for Boeing and the many airlines which are its customers. But at the moment, there's no indication or even reason to think this is related to the previous battery problems. This fire happened after the plane had been on the ground for some eight hours. It was not in a part of the plane where the batteries are. And so there's a range of possible explanations.

I'm sure the NTSB, its international analogs and Boeing itself are looking very, very carefully just now to see if it was some kind of odd case of one circumstance of a kitchen fire or a cigarette or whatever, or if there is some other underlying problem with the aircraft, which will put them back in trouble.

LYDEN: Right. And finally, Jim, we are waiting for the jury in the George Zimmerman trial to return a verdict. It could come this weekend. Now, throughout the week, as you know, just about everything in that courtroom played out on cable television as if it were a made-for-TV drama. Americans find this whole process endlessly interesting, don't they?

FALLOWS: They do. And it would be easy to go crazy about cable news' obsession with the Zimmerman trial when things are happening in Egypt and elsewhere. But I think there actually is some point to its obsessive focus. Trials have been through, as long as there have been legal systems, they've been a focus of attention. We can think of "Les Miserables" with the trial of Jean Valjean.

In American history, we've been punctuated by important trials. And while there are some that fade from memory once their gone - I'm thinking, for example, the Jodi Arias case, which nobody will be paying attention to a few years from now. Many others stick in the memory because there are big issues involved, whether we're talking about the trial of Sacco and Vanzetti or the Leopold-Loeb trial almost a century ago, or the Rosenbergs or even O.J. Simpson.

When there are issues of race or of class or of political issues or even of the side effects of celebrity that are involved in a trial, often we think these things matter. And because there are so many racial and gun-related issues involved in this trial, I think it also merits at least some of the attention it's getting now.

LYDEN: James Fallows is national correspondent with The Atlantic. You can read his blog at jamesfallows.theatlantic.com. Jim, thanks so much.

FALLOWS: Thank you, Jacki.

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