Stephen Colbert testifies before Congress

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Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Television host and comedian Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central's 'The Colbert Report' arrives to testify on US farm workers before the Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugee, Border Security and International Law on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, September 24, 2010.

Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert spent part of one day picking crops. That experience led him to Capitol Hill where he testified before a congressional committee examining the need for foreign farmworkers.

The subject was serious: an agricultural jobs bill that would allow foreign workers to legally fill farm jobs Americans won’t take. But even the humor of Stephen Colbert couldn’t dampen partisan rancor.

The top Republican on the committee, Steve King of Iowa, said that implying Americans aren't willing do hard work insults the Joe the Plumbers of America, who "would prefer the aroma of fresh dirt to that of the sewage of American elitists who disparage them as they flush."

Colbert suggested that more Americans would take agricultural jobs if they paid better. Then he added, "maybe the easier answer is just to have scientists develop vegetables that pick themselves. The genetic engineers over at Fruit of the Loom have made great strides in human-fruit hybrids."

Montebello Democrat Judy Chu persuaded Colbert to dispense with the jokes, asking him why he was interested in this issue. In a quiet voice, Colbert said he liked "talking about people who don’t have any power. And this seems like one of the least powerful people in the United States are migrant workers who come and do our work, but don’t have any rights as a result."

Two California Democrats – Dianne Feinstein in the Senate and Howard Berman in the House – introduced the Ag Jobs bill. The main disagreement between parties is whether seasonal workers should be given a pathway to legal permanent residency.

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