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Childish Congress

By Staff | Jun 22, 2012

Kansas State University ag economist Barry Flinchbaugh, who has long been involved in farm policy, said Congress is too dysfunctional to pass a farm bill right now.

That means that the farm bill, which has long been a product of bipartisanship, will become collateral damage like so many other things in the partisan wars in Washington.

Historically, both the House and Senate ag committees would carve out respective versions of the farm bill and differences were worked out in the Joint Conference committee. Congressional leadership let the committee chairman drive the process and generally accepted the results, pushing for full passage of the reconciled bill.

Nobody got everything they wanted. That is why subsidy limits were retained to keep Southern support. Both chamber versions of the farm bill will have large cuts in them that were supposed to meet budget targets.

President Obama would sign most any farm bill that Congress would send to him just to make it look like something is happening and some governance is occurring. That is why Republicans won’t send him one. They don’t want it to look like he is doing anything. They have had good success with that.

It used to be that politicians would never push these things to the point where governance stopped, where they would actually disrupt or cause harm to the public or the country. They hate each other today more than they love the country. Their first focus is on doing political damage to their opponents and the good of the country has fallen lower in their priorities.

There is no reason in the world that this farm bill should not move through the process as have all others. All versions embrace large cuts and the differences of opinion are not so deep as to justify digging into ideological trenches to stop the bill. Yet Flinchbaugh doesn’t think that will make any difference. If there is not enough substance in policy to stall the bill, the ideologues will just make something up. If Congress can’t pass something as generally non-confrontational as a farm bill there is zero prospects of handling fiscal issues that are contentious.

A lot of politicians are getting elected that characterize compromise as something bad, like “cooties.” It is childish. Working or even talking with Democrats can get Republicans defeated in primaries.

The partisans are living in some alternative reality that they can so crush their opponents in the next election that compromise is unnecessary and they can push their agenda to domination.

That is not the real world; in fact, the real world is suffering from this. The president should have embraced the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan but didn’t because if he had, it would have been labeled by Republicans as the Obama deficit plan and they cannot in the current political environment support anything that he does, even if it makes really good governance sense.

I do not believe that even an election can fix the dysfunctional government. If Republicans win this fall, Democrats will do to Republicans what Republicans did to them. The Congressional inability to embrace the fiscal reforms needed to establish a base for the economy and business may only be forced on them by markets.

The Fed has been buying time with monetary policy, but that only goes so far. Unless we know what our tax structure and taxes are, business will not risk the capital investment needed to boost economic growth to increase employment. One could argue that the Fed has enabled Congress to be dysfunctional for too long so needs to leave them on the hook this time so that they are compelled to act.

The bottom line is that all of this hurts the economy and the country. Reasonable people can find solutions to our fiscal policy. I do not believe that Congress will be any more reasonable after the election than it is now. It will not pass a better farm bill after the election than it could enact now.

The farm bill is actually pretty simple compared to other fiscal problems so it would make sense for them to get the simpler things done so they have more resources to devote to the tough issues.

Common sense like that is way out of favor in Washington.

I hope that they pass a farm bill and prove Flinchbaugh and myself wrong.

David Kruse is president of CommStock Investments Inc., author and producer of The CommStock Report, an ag commentary and market analysis available daily by radio and by subscription on DTN/FarmDayta and the Internet.

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