FOOD & FUEL FILE
No one in Washington, D.C., is looking forward to the Fourth of July Congressional break more than Speaker John Boehner.
It’s been a black-and-blue month for the boss, capped by the June 20 disaster that made him the first leader of the House of Representatives ever to lose a farm bill vote.
The quiet might give Boehner time to reassess the poisonous politics that brought that stunning defeat despite his party’s 35-vote majority.
It also will give him time to pull some GOP buckshot out of his backside.
For example, Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., who chaired the House Ag Committee from 2003 through 2007, authored a dairy pricing amendment to the farm bill that won quick approval.
Shortly thereafter, however, Goodlatte pulled an about-face and voted against the overall bill that contained it. Wow.
Goodlatte wasn’t the only GOP big gun to vote against the bill. Five other Republican committee bosses from big farm states – Ryan, of Wisconsin, Hensarling, of Texas, Shuster, of Pennsylvania; Miller, of Florida and Royce, of California – hung their speaker out to dry like yesterday’s dirty socks.
Many of the Republicans naysayers said they voted against the farm bill because cuts to food assistance programs, some $20 billion over an estimated 10-year cost of $700 billion, were too small.
Too small or too big, Collin Peterson, ranking member of the ag committee, thought he had enough Democratic votes, despite the cuts, to add to Boehner’s GOP total to carry the legislation over the top.
Two late amendments to “means test” food aid recipients, however, were added. National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson called them poison pills, and they were.
Peterson’s hold on his colleagues’ already-soft support melted and, in the end, only 24 Democrats voted for the bill.
Few handicappers blame the Democrats for the defeat. After all, it’s not the minority party’s job to pass legislation. That falls to the speaker and 62 of his GOP colleagues took a hike. Success went with them.
All leaves Boehner and his Balkanized House deeply wounded and deeply dysfunctional on the farm bill front.
Any option to move any 2013 farm legislation is not going anywhere fast.
First, there is no appetite to bring the failed bill back to the floor. That bill, according to tea-tilting GOP members, is too expensive and too extensive. They want to separate the cheaper, farm part of the bill from the vastly more expensive food aid portion before reviving any farm bill.
That will not happen. The farm program-food assistance marriage may be getting long in the tooth, but it still has a hard bite. Divorce ensures neither survives.
A second option would have Congress extend the 2008 farm bill for another year (it was extended for 2013), while House ag members attempt to write another version. That option carries more baggage than AMTRAK.
First, farmers don’t want it; they’d rather have the better crop (really revenue) insurance coverage contained in the pending Senate bill than today’s, and maybe tomorrow’s, direct payments.
Second, the White House doesn’t want it. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack delivered that message June 25 with a terse rejoinder aimed at the Speaker:
The farm bill “needs to be done the time for excuses is over.”
Third, Democrats on the House Ag Committee don’t want it. Three years, two bills and now another year and another bill? Ain’t happening, they say.
Fourth, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, whose chamber passed its second farm bill in two years on June 10 by a wide 66-27 bipartisan margin, agrees; he will not bring a farm bill extension vote to the Senate.
So, what’s left of the speaker?
One idea would be to bring the Senate farm bill to the House floor. It’d be a hard pill for Boehner to swallow, but it might taste better than the red-hot tea he’s been forced to drink lately.
He could, of course, make the whole problem somebody else’s problem by resiging as Speaker.
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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