W   hen I left work June 20, I was headed out of town for four days and about the last thing I was thinking about was the status of the federal farm bill.

Then for four days, I didn't turn on the TV, didn't read a newspaper and frankly didn't pay a lot of attention to what was happening on the American political front.

Not that the farm bill wasn't important, just that for four days, I'd shifted it onto the back burner. As priorities went, it was nowhere near the top of my list.

Then I came home.

And in about 10 minutes, I learned the House of Representatives had done about the only intelligent (and important) thing it has done so far this year -- it voted down the farm bill.

That came, of course, about five weeks after the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee voted to approve the farm bill, and about one week after the entire Senate voted in favor of it.


At least for the moment.

Why did the House not approve the farm bill? As it turns out, it was just dumb luck -- typical maneuvering from politicians who couldn't get wet if they'd all fall out of a boat into the ocean at the same time.

Keep in mind the Senate bill would cost taxpayers $955 billion over 10 years.

The House bill was hardly any easier on the national pocketbook because it would have cost $940 billion.

This, while the country is still suffering from a five-year economic downturn that's made the wealthy among us even wealthier, and most of the rest of us poor as church mice.

As a country, we're about to drown in an ocean of red ink, and all we can think about is adding almost a trillion dollars in farm subsidies to the federal budget.

Apparently we've gone completely mad.

In the end, though, it came down to more politics in the House, where the two parties can rarely agree on anything.

On one side, the Republicans refused to support the farm bill because they thought it was too expensive -- the food stamp cuts in the bill were not big enough.

On the other side, the Democrats refused to support the bill because they thought it wasn't expensive enough -- the food stamp cuts were too big.

None of them seemed particularly troubled by agricultural price supports, however, even when the cost of food in this country is rising almost as fast as the cost of gasoline.

A quick history lesson: the first national farm bill was approved in 1949. In essence it was, and still is, a two-parter: It expanded the food stamp program and put American farmers on the dole, often paying them to plant crops we have an abundance of in this country or, in some cases, for not planting any crops at all.

Gone were the days when the agriculture community would have to survive by its own wits in a free market economy.

And every four or five years since, Congress and the president have acted in unison and re-upped the bill. Special-interest politics at work over and over again.

In 2008, former President George W. Bush, a big-time spender if ever there was one, actually vetoed a farm bill that was passed by Congress. Too expensive, he said. American taxpayers couldn't afford it, he said. The farm subsidies were wasteful and unfair, he said.

All of which was accurate.

Nevertheless, Congress overrode the veto to the tune of $640 billion over 10 years.

And now Congress wants to up the ante by increasing the farm subsidies by almost 50 percent.

One of these days, we're going to figure out in this country that government can't solve all of our problems by throwing money at it.

It's way past time to push American farmers off the dole. It's time they stood on their own two feet -- no hindrance by the government, other than concerns for public safety and public health, and no support by the government, either.

I've known a lot of farmers. They're a smart and practical bunch. They're pretty quick about adding one plus one and coming up with two. They'll adjust in a nanosecond to getting the federal government out of their back pockets.

And the food stamp program, while necessary, could stand some adjustment, as well.

Last week, the House failed to pass a farm bill.

It was the right thing to do, but not for all the right reasons.

It was a fortunate accident.

And it's not going to last. I know that.

So I guess I'll have to enjoy the moment while I can.

Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: lhicks@yorkdispatch.com.