Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Clout of agriculture, like that of the rural, wanes in Congress

In the wake of the House of Representatives' defeat of the farm bill a few days ago, Ron Nixon reports for the New York Times under the headline, "Farm Bill Defeat Shows Agriculture's Waning Power."  But it is the story not only of the decline (or at least a hiccup with) the farm lobby, it is also a(nother) story of the declining political power of rural America.  Here's an excerpt:
For much of American history, the agriculture sectors wielded tremendous political power. Farm groups were able to get key farm legislation passed by rallying millions of farmers in nearly every Congressional district. 
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But as Americans have moved to the cities and suburbs, farmers and lawmakers representing districts largely dependent on agriculture have seen their political muscle steadily decline.
Farm state legislators no longer held the power they once did.  Nixon quotes Vincent H. Smith, a professor of agricultural economics at Montana State University:
There are a small number of Congressional districts where farming continues to carry much sway.  Especially in the House, the farm lobby has been substantially weakened.
Smith also cited Congressional response to last year's drought as evidence of agriculture's diminished status on the national political stage.  Research by Smith in 2006 showed that only 40 lawmakers represented largely farming districts, a number that has probably since declined.    

Agriculture currently accounts for just about 1% of gross national product, whereas in 1950 it was 9%.  Only 2.5% of the U.S. work force--about 2.2 million people--currently work in farming in U.S.

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