FOOD & FUEL FILE
Less than a generation ago, June meant the end of school, the beginning of summer and the arrival of Dairy Month.
Now, somehow, June has become the Golf Channel’s official Pace of Play Month, LGBT Pride Month (you can look that up) and Farm Bill Month.
Little wonder rural folks are cranky; enjoying frosty bowls of vanilla ice cream on the back porch has been replaced by angry brawls over ag spending in the halls of Congress.
This June’s farm bill, like last June’s farm bill and the still-in-effect June 2008 farm bill, clouds clarity and spotlights hypocrisy.
For example, the 2013 Senate version, that passed 66 to 27 on June 10, is portrayed by politicians and farm groups alike as a budget-slashing, farm program-reforming effort.
Its estimated 10-year cost, however, according to the Congressional Budget Office, is $955 billion, or twice the estimated cost ($284 billion over five years: of the 2008 law. (See www.farmpolicy.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/CRSFrmBillSpending10Oct7.pdf) .
Additionally, a key reform section of the bill retains an “outdated counter-cyclical program with even higher fixed targets prices,” for peanuts and rice, said Sen. John Thune, R-SD. His colleague, Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, calls the throwback a “look in the rearview mirror.”
The scheme was added to garner-buy farm bill support of Southern senators who wax poetic on the virtues of budgetary tea, but never actually drink the stuff unless it’s sweet tea, a regional concoction loaded with taxpayer-funded giveaways.
In truth, the Senate bill holds enough clunkers to attract 25 (of the 27 total) “nays” from ag’s usually supportive, GOP corner. Several came from key farm and ranch states: two from Texas; one each from Illinois, Ohio, and Wyoming and the aforementioned South Dakota and Kansas.
Most didn’t vote against expanding crop insurance or costly counter-cyclical policies. They said no because Senate cuts in food assistance programs, $4.5 billion over 10 years, weren’t enough.
“Not enough,” is the unofficial motto the House of Representatives, the graveyard of the Senate’s 2012 farm bill. After receiving it last June, House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor buried it by burying the House’s 2012 farm bill.
This year, though, each promises a floor vote on the House’s less-costly bill by the end of June. The leaders’ promises are probably good, but recent reports from the Hill suggest their collective enthusiasm is not.
For example, on June 10, Politico held up the Speaker’s well-known contempt for both the Senate and House bills’ dairy policy changes as symptomatic of how “Republicans are genuinely divided over the role of government in farm policy.”
In a June 12 interview with Politico, however, Boehner tamped down ideas that he could not bring home the bacon.
“I’m going to vote for the farm bill to make sure that the good work of the agriculture committee gets to a conference” with the Senate, he offered.
OK, but steering any legislation – let alone a well-larded, $1 trillion farm law – through the GOP-dominated House will be a politically perilous journey for him. First, about 45 percent of the House’s 435 members have served less than three years and, as such, these 200 or so members have never voted on a farm bill.
Second, unofficial vote counts show about 80 of Boehner’s 234-member GOP caucus moving against him and the farm bill. Like the Senate Republican naysayers, they want deeper cuts to food assistance.
How much more?
On June 4, former House Ag Chair, and now Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-MN, told a farm crowd that proposed House cuts to nutrition programs, about $2 billion per year for the life of the bill, would get, maybe, 150 Republican votes.
For the other 80 or so, he offered, “$100 billion [in cuts] wouldn’t be enough.”
If Peterson is even close to right, then the Speaker’s pace of play on the golf course and in the House may be as long gone as those sweet Junes a generation ago.
The Farm and Food File is published weekly in more than 70 newspapers in North America. Contact Alan Guebert at www.farmandfoodfile.com.
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