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Stabenow proves her mettle with passage of farm bill

Jack Lessenberry

Eight years ago, Republicans were smirking with glee. They thought they finally had an image to destroy U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow. They posted video on YouTube showing an unflattering picture of her in the senate, standing next to a sign reading "Dangerously Incompetent." It was followed by all sorts of sniggering comments,many of them essentially misogynistic.

Stabenow, they claimed then, was one of the most ineffective members of the U.S. Senate. I talked to smug Republicans at the time who felt sure she was going down.

Well, that fall she won reelection by 600,000 votes. Suddenly, Democrats were in the majority in the Senate. Soon Stabenow, the daughter of a car salesman from Clare, was chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Republicans rolled their eyes at that, too, until the Michigan Farm Bureau stunned them by endorsing her for reelection two years ago.That time, she won by almost a million votes. This week, her career may have reached an all-time high.

After two years of bitter fighting, Congress finally passed a new farm bill, only after Stabenow took the unusual step of lobbying for it on the house floor. Senators do that about as often as the aristocrats in TV's Downton Abbey go downstairs to cook for the servants. But it paid off. To honor her achievement, President Obama is flying to Michigan State University Friday to sign this bill.

This is fitting in a number of ways. MSU is the nation's pioneer land-grant university, and has been helping state agriculture since it was founded in 1855.

MSU is also Stabenow's alma mater, though she studied social work, not agriculture, and sang folk songs in a local coffee house. But by virtue of sheer hard work, she has made herself an agriculture expert.

There are generally three kinds of U.S. Senators: show horses, nonentities, and a small group of workhorses. Stabenow is one of the leading workhorses.

Now, nobody thinks this 10-year farm bill is perfect. Her liberal allies are especially bitter than it cuts money for food stamps by $8 billion over the next decade.

Harry Cook, a retired Episcopal priest who works with the poor, posted an essay this morning which says, "The farm bill is an outrage and President Obama should veto it."

He says Sen. Stabenow "has turned into the worst kind of compromiser, prizing (bipartisan praise) over her duty to provide for the poor." There is no disputing that this bill is not good for those who depend on food assistance. I am not happy about that either. But it should be remembered that Republicans, who control the House, originally wanted to end food stamps entirely.

This bill does do some worthwhile things. It eliminates a program that paid farmers $5 billion a year whether they grew anything or not, a throwback to New Deal days.

Instead, this bill helps them with crop insurance, meaning farmers will have to pay premiums and only be paid when they take a loss. This bill isn't perfect, but on balance, it's better than what existed before. You can still find that "dangerously incompetent" picture on YouTube, but nobody talks about it anymore.

Sometimes it turns out that actions really are worth more than a thousand pictures.

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