FOOD & FUEL FILE
Journalism school doesn’t make cynics out of people who pick up the pen for a living. Committing journalism – using the pen to chronicle the escapades of crooks and crackpots you encounter as a journalist – often does, though.
A glaring example of this transformation arrived in the late-July action of Speaker of the House John Boehner R-Ohio. No one, not even the most ink-covered, nicotine-stained journalist could have foreseen the Speaker’s cynical use of the worst drought in 50 years to paper over his colleagues’ failure to act on a needed farm bill.
Like the current drought, Boehner’s dilemma grew worse over the summer. After a year of dull talk and even duller hearings, both Congressional ag committees completed their 2012 farm bill work by mid-July. The full Senate, in a rare display of bipartisanship, even passed its bill on June 21.
But the House held the only chance to get the two versions welded together before the 2008 act expires on Oct. 1. Boehner kept the House bill back because it contained too few spending cuts for the tea-drinking wing (nearly 90 votes) of his Republican majority.
Indeed, the Committee-passed bill pared just $35 billion from its 10-year spending plan of $969 billion and just $16.5 billion of that from what everyone still calls the food stamp, now SNAP, program.
That tissue-thin slice – “1.6 percent,” howled tea party activists – from food stamps meant Boehner needed Democratic votes for the House to pass the committee bill. Worse, he needed those votes before Congress went on its five-week August recess so staffers could “conference” the two versions to have any chance to meet the farm bill’s Oct. 1 deadline.
The Dems, however, were never going to pull Boehner’s bacon out of the tea kettle. Their party’s power is urban-based and those representatives want more food aid, not less.
In fact, this farm bill’s proposed farm-to-food-aid ratio – four out of every five farm bill dollars go to nutrition programs – is largely why for 50 years rural House members have delivered farm bills filled with food stamps and, for 50 years, their urban colleagues have delivered farm bills to farmers and ranchers.
No farm bill has ever, or will ever, move without that rural-urban coalition to fuel it.
So Boehner, in a bind, took a page from today’s toxic playbook and devised a doomed-to-fail scheme to extend the current farm bill one year so that when it failed, and it would, he could place the blame anywhere but on himself and his divided Republican Party members.
The device designed to do just that was a 47-page bill that didn’t just extend the 2008 law through October 2013; it all but rewrote it.
For example, explained the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Boehner’s plan not only cut “farm conservation programs by $761 million,” it also “effectively terminate(d) all farm-bill funded rural economic development, renewable energy, organic agriculture, local food and beginning and minority farmer programs “
And, the NSAC went on, it did so with “no open deliberations, no hearings, no testimony, and no chance for amendments.”
The Speaker, of course, could have cared less. His job wasn’t for the House to pass his bill or any bill. His job was to make it appear that failure – and failure was in the air before he ever uttered the words “farm bill” in late July – lay at the feet of Dems while giving his party’s tea drinkers something to chew on other than him.
But the jig was up even before it got to a vote. Almost every farm group canned the Speaker’s plan from the start. The cynicism in it was so evident and so transparent that everyone with a scoop shovel or pitchfork in the farm bill fight saw through it in an instant.
So, now, several more months will pass without the House doing the simple job of passing its farm bill.
Which reminds me, when’s Election Day?
The Farm and Food File is published weekly in more than 70 newspapers in North America. Contact Alan Guebert at www.farmandfoodfile.com.
Please Enter Your Facebook App ID. Required for FB Comments. Click here for FB Comments Settings page