REMEMBER how your mother would ask you, "If someone told you to jump off a cliff, would you?" Well, I'm about ready to push Congress off a cliff. At least then the nation wouldn't have to deal with their ineptness.
Jan. 1 didn't sneak up on anyone, yet the only way to "solve" the current mess created by Congress' self-imposed sequestration cuts was to throw together an 11th-hour deal on the fiscal cliff that left no time to work toward a real solution.
The fiscal cliff was always there, and many Americans were just waiting for legislators to go over the cliff with the thought that maybe they would finally get serious about the government's out-of-control spending.
Instead, this bill just sets up another major impasse, merely delaying dealing with automatic sequestration cuts and the debt ceiling by two months; also, the fiscal 2013 continuing resolution needs to be addressed by March 1.
Pat Westhoff, director of the University of Missouri's Food & Agricultural Policy Research Institute, said the debt limit discussion could be critical if the budget dictates how much in savings will need to be found. The farm bill has consistently been touted as a budget "saving" mechanism, and that bargaining chip could be used again at the next impasse.
Dale Moore, deputy director of public policy for the American Farm Bureau Federation, said he had hoped that the fiscal cliff discussions would be the end point of a pendulum swing that, once reached, could then swing back to the center to create more middle ground. Unfortunately, he doesn't think we're there yet.
The 2012 farm bill debate saw hurdle after hurdle, despite bipartisanship from committee leaders. The agriculture committees worked hard on a five-year farm bill and again on a one-year extension, but in the end, they didn't write the farm bill fix.
Westhoff explained that how Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) and Vice President Joe Biden handled the extension, with complete disregard for the proposal from ag committee leaders, really questions who's driving the car right now: "Is this a one-time only deal, or a sign of things to come?"
Getting a farm bill through the House will be more challenging than ever before.
"It's not quite clear how you get to the end game," Westhoff said. "There is concern in 2013 how we go from committee action to actual farm bills that can pass the full House, which appears to be a difficult challenge right now."
Congress now has sufficient time to come together, but the question is whether members can put aside party politics and get the job done.
In a floor speech before the final vote, Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) voiced her frustration with the extension and the disregard for vital agricultural reform in which direct payments would be eliminated to pay for key programs.
Stabenow said farmers deserve the certainty of a five-year farm bill versus being strung along, but "I can see it coming: limping along extension after extension, just like we seem to have happen everywhere here, and I thought agriculture was the one area where we were not going to do that."
Here's to more hobbling along, I fear.