Conservative Republicans Value Purity Over Policy (Farm Bill Edition)

Yesterday’s Farm Bill vote is another in a long line of votes in which conservative Republicans walked away from their best available policy option in order to preserve their ideological purity. It’s one thing to be a tough negotiator, but it’s another to consistently walk away from the best deal on the table and wind up with a worse outcome.

If the House had passed the Farm Bill there would have been cuts to SNAP as well as changes to crop insurance. Both would have moved marginally in the direction that conservatives wanted. Instead, the most likely scenario now is a temporary extension of the 2008 Farm Bill. I take conservative preferences to be:

  1. Drastic cuts to SNAP funding and eligibility
  2. The House Bill (20 billion in SNAP cuts and a work requirement)
  3. The Senate Bill (4 billion in SNAP cuts)
  4. Continuing the 2008 Farm Bill.

Given that president Obama had threatened to veto the House Bill, and the Senate had passed as conservative a deal as minority leader Mitch McConnell could get, there was no realistic path to options 1 or 2. Going to conference with the Senate might have yielded a compromise between the House and Senate version of the bill, an option 2.5 perhaps, better than the Senate bill but not ideal. Instead, 62 Republicans voted against the bill and doomed themselves to option 4.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. Obamacare is probably the most important example, where conservatives decided to vehemently oppose any health care reform rather than negotiate for a better bill.

In a system that is heavily biased towards the status quo, conservatives would do much better from a policy perspective to take the incremental changes they can get, and then push for steeper cuts next time.

This leads me to something I’ve been wondering about, is there a conservative policy agenda, or is the goal just to shut down the government while still getting elected? Passing up partial victories simply to avoid voting for flawed legislation isn’t a good way to get policy done, it’s a way to maintain voting purity, create dysfunction, and then get re-elected by claiming that Washington doesn’t work.

The failure to negotiate hurts everyone. While I certainly tend to have more policy agreements with the current Democratic party, there are lots of policies that could be improved through negotiation. A healthful skepticism of government intervention is a necessary part of a functioning democracy. Unfortunately, we seemed to have left healthy a long way behind.

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