Opinion

Stories I’d like to see

The mysterious farm bill, sequestration’s virtues, and the death of airport newsstands

Steven Brill
Jun 25, 2013 10:31 UTC

1.  Can someone please explain the farm bill fight?

I’m a news junkie. But I am completely clueless about one policy issue that is hugely important (it affects what we eat and how much we pay for it), involves hundreds of billions of dollars in government programs and subsidies, and was splashed all over the front pages last week as the latest example of congressional dysfunction.

I’m referring, of course, to America’s farm policy (that’s farm, not foreign) and what last week’s headlines called “the farm bill.”

What is the farm bill? I know it has to do with paying subsidies to farmers for something, enforcing price supports (whatever that means) on some crops or commodities, funding food stamps, and implementing a bunch of other programs supposedly to help the farming economy. But that’s all I know, and I bet that’s all a lot of you know.

This front page New York Times story is so typical of how the mainstream media has covered the farm bill fight that one could start to believe theories that if a story is playing out between the two coasts (where most farms are), most editors and reporters must think it’s not worth worrying about. The Times story refers to the “farm bill” repeatedly, but the paper apparently assumes either that I already know what it is or that I don’t care, because it never describes it. Instead, the focus is all about Washington — the political fallout over the farm bill, whatever it is, being stalled in Congress following a bitter split in Republican ranks.

In fact, to the extent that this and other coverage has delved into the substance of the bill, it’s been mostly about the one part of it that has nothing to do with farming — the food stamp program.

The Dodd-Frank effect, unions and private equity, and Newt’s expenses

Steven Brill
Jan 31, 2012 13:19 UTC

1. The Dodd-Frank effect: Good, bad or both?

Although the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the mega-agency created by the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory bill, has only been in existence for about six months, all of the Republican presidential candidates and GOP congressional leaders have slammed the agency and called for its abolition. Their central charge is that the regulations it has already promulgated are strangling the financial system and disabling banks from making the kinds of loans to small businesses and potential homeowners that would reignite the economy.

For example, in the Jan. 23 Republican presidential debate Mitt Romney said he had spoken to a banker in New York who said he had “hundreds of lawyers” tied up trying to navigate the new regulations.

Some sophisticated financial reporter, or team of reporters, needs to dig into that – with specifics. What exactly is the new agency requiring that is gumming up the works? What new rules are drawing the most persuasive complaints? How burdensome are they? How many lawyers and others are actually involved who were not working on the same types of regulations before? What abuses are the new rules intended to prevent? Which ones, if any, really do seem indefensible and which ones, if any, seem smartly crafted and worth the extra burden?

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