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FARM AND FOOD FILE

Birds of a feather

June 26, 2015
By ALAN GUEBERT - Columnist

While my family never subsisted on the deer, doves, quail, ducks, and geese that shared the southern Illinois dairy farm of my youth with us, we did enjoy a noon meal of rabbit or squirrel several times a year.

It wasn't until I became a journalist, however, that I tasted crow.

Yes, crow. You know, the big black bird that serves as both a symbol of loud announcements as in "crowing," and a metaphor for having to take back all or part of those announcements as in "eating crow."

In more than 30 years of the writing life, I've had it as an appetizer, entree, and dessert more than once. No, it doesn't taste like chicken and, yes, it's always better when washed down with a frothy, cold liquid made from hops, barley and water.

It may grace my dinner plate again soon because a month ago in this space I wrote that "Not only will the U.S. Senate vote to give this president and the next one fast track trade authority, so too will the U.S. House of Representatives."

On Friday, May 22, the Senate did vote 62-37 to reinstitute fast track trading authority for seven years so this president and the next can finish the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, now near completion after years of rocky negotiations, and an anticipated, similar deal with nations across the Atlantic.

On June 12, the U.S House also agreed, but by a much slimmer 219-211 margin, to extend fast track trade authority seven years, also.

Anyone see any crows - flying or frying - in either vote? No, right?

In the lead-up to the House vote, however, Republican leaders, facing a rebellion against fast track from the right flank of their caucus, and always probing for a chance to hobble an already scrambling Obama White House, split the Senate approved trade bill into two parts.

That meant for fast track to become law, the House first had to approve a worker-aid program where tea sipping Republicans could vent-vote against Obama, while forcing Democrats, most who view the nearly done Pacific deal as a job killer for their big union supporters, to muscle up and carry the aid portion of the bill across the finish line.

On the vote, though, the Dems ran for cover faster than frightened chickens and the worker aid bill sank by a staggering 126-302 margin.

Shortly thereafter, 28 Dems did vote for the second half of the two-part bill, the fast track part, but that partial victory was meaningless because both pieces needed to pass for fast track to be approved.

So, technically, I was right. Fast track trade authority did pass both the Senate and the House, but in fact, it remains sidetracked until the House votes to pass the worker-aid portion of the split bill or chucks it in favor of passing the unsplit Senate bill.

In the hubbub of handing a White House a rotten egg, a lot of House Ag Committee members proved themselves poultry. As reported June 15 by Chuck Abbott of the Food and Environment Reporting Network, House aggies voted 33-10 against the worker aid portion of bill that effectively killed the entire bill.

Amazingly, that 3-to-1 against margin - for a "group that's aware of the importance of ag exports to farm income," explained Abbott - was greater than the full House's overall 2-to-1 killing margin.

Even more interesting, the committee's No Way Gang included 18 Repubs and 15 Dems as well as both the chairman, Texan Republican Michael Conaway, and Ranking Member Collin Peterson of Minnesota.

Despite the House's half-nay, half-yea denying vote, most handicappers see it attempting to approve the whole package before the August recess. The simple question of when has an even simpler answer: it'll move when House leaders and the White House have the votes. If those votes can't be found, fast track is a dead duck.

Until then, I'll keep the crow on the stove. Like Congress, it's better after a long simmer anyway.

The Farm and Food File is published weekly through the U.S. and Canada. Past columns, events and contact information are posted at www.farmandfoodfile.com.

 
 

 

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