FARM AND FOOD FILE
A week before American voters decided whether the mid-term elections would deliver a red wave or a blue wave, OpenSecrets.org, the non-partisan group that tracks money in politics, made a spot-on prediction: the biggest wave on Nov. 6 would be green.
Think greenbacks, that is, because this year’s political candidates, OpenSecrets estimated, would spend $5.2 billion on 2018 campaigns, a whopping 35 percent increase over 2014 mid-term spending.
Given the recent track record on Capitol Hill-no federal budget deadline met since 1998, failure to pass the last three farm bills on time, no balanced budget since 2001-you’d think elective office would be a grim study in futility. Not so, says wave after wave of office seekers.
It’s no different at the state level. For example, earlier this year in Florida, six candidates for governor-two Republicans and four Democrats-spent $84 million on television ads in just the primary.
Even more remarkable, the biggest spender in that race, ag commissioner Adam Putnam, a Republican, spent $25 million only to lose to a dark horse congressman, Ron DeSantis.
But that’s chickenfeed compared to the billionaire-versus-billionaire governor’s race in my home state, Illinois. The eventual winner, J.B. Pritzker, an heir to the Hyatt hotel empire, spent $171 million of his own dough to beat the GOP incumbent, Gov. Bruce Rauner, a billionaire private equity investor, who spent $50 million in his re-election bid.
Combined that means a staggering $72 was spent on every vote cast in the governor’s race. Money may not buy happiness, but it sure did buy a lot of mud in one of the dirtiest campaigns ever run in a state known, ironically, for its rich dirt.
The biggest spenders nationally were Democrats. OpenSecrets estimated Dems outspent GOP candidates nationwide $2.5 billion to $2.2 billion. Democrats used that extra $300 million to target incumbent Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives.
It paid off; Democrats recaptured the House after eight years in the wilderness. The margin of majority remains uncertain as several House races are too close to call. There’s no doubt, however, that old Farm Bill hands like Minnesota’s Collin Peterson, the House Ag Committee’s former chairman, can reclaim the top spot by simply asking for it.
That said, House Republicans must first decide if they want to give their ally, President Donald J. Trump, a key legislative triumph-a finished 2018 Farm Bill-before their power drains away.
That win appears attainable if the more conservative GOP House members bow in defeat: abandon their “work-capable” demands for certain food aid (SNAP) recipients so a final bill can move forward.
That’s a very big if because this stubborn group includes the unbowed President who supported the SNAP “reforms” on the fall campaign trail.
Still, Iowa’s Sen. Charles Grassley suggested his fellow Republicans do just that. The “House better fish or cut bait and give up on that (SNAP reform),” he said, if they want to have any input on any new farm law.
It’s practical advice for several reasons. First, few lawmakers look forward to starting the entire Farm Bill writing process anew when the incoming Congress is seated in January. Secondly, it delays completing any 2019 Farm Bill for months while also requiring Congress to pass (and the White House to sign) an extension of the 2014 law before this year’s quickly approaching adjournment.
On top of that delicate two-step, few suggest that any 2019 Farm Bill would be substantially different than the Senate’s draft 2018 bill that still hangs fire in Congress now. As such, asks one Capitol Hill friend, can cooler heads prevail and complete the 2018 bill as limping House Republicans head for the exits?
Sure, but that would require a purple wave of bipartisan cooperation in Washington which no one predicts anytime soon.
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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