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House Republicans play stub toe with farm bill again (commentary)

House Republicans play stub toe with farm bill again (commentary)

ON July 10, House Republican leaders tried to resuscitate a new version of the farm bill, leaving the current iteration battered and bloodied and gasping for air.

Rather than trying extraordinary measures to revive the patient, they decided that the provisions of a living will were in order and suggested that Congress consider pulling the plug.

House leaders, driven by conservative Tea Party politics, called for an immediate autopsy and a coroner's visit, suggesting that the best solution was to pronounce last rites on the bill and creating a bifurcated version to replace it.

There would be two new bills: One would focus on an immediate need to determine the size and shape of farm subsidies, and the other would leave the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for a later discussion, followed by serious dismemberment.

They proceeded to pinch off the oxygen tube July 11 when they passed a "farm-only" version without the SNAP provisions, effectively splitting the farm bill in two — something that President Barack Obama promised to veto if it reached his desk.

It should be viewed largely as a symbolic move, akin to the 37 or 38 times the House has tried to vote down "Obamacare" — lots of smoke, but no fire, since it doesn't have the necessary votes to make it happen.

An angry Rep. Collin Peterson (D., Minn.), House Agriculture Committee ranking member, quickly released a statement after House Republicans voted for the most modified farm bill (H.R. 2642) in history.

"The House majority's decision to ignore the will of the more than 500 organizations with a stake in the farm bill, setting the stage for draconian cuts to nutrition programs and eliminating future farm bills altogether, would be laughable if it weren't true," he said.

"This was not the only option. Following the House failure to pass a comprehensive, bipartisan, five-year farm bill, I repeatedly expressed a willingness to work with the majority on a path forward," Peterson added. "I firmly believed that if we could find a way to remove the partisan amendments adopted during the House farm bill debate, we would be able to advance a bipartisan bill, conference with the Senate and see it signed into law this year. Now, all that is in question."

House Agriculture Committee chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) disagreed, of course, saying, "Today was an important step toward enacting a five-year farm bill this year that gives our farmers and ranchers certainty, provides regulatory relief to small businesses across the country, significantly reduces spending and makes commonsense, market-oriented reforms to agricultural policy. I look forward to continuing conversations with my House colleagues and starting conversations with my Senate colleagues on a path forward that ultimately gets a farm bill to the President's desk in the coming months."

Amazing, isn't it, that two representatives of farm states could sit in the same room and serve on the same committee with a chasm between them that could swallow the Grand Canyon? Or that Lucas cleverly made no mention of SNAP?

As usual, Washington, D.C., is ridiculously tardy in writing a new and acceptable farm law that has any chance of getting passed, and it follows on the heels of the last bout of inaction that gave us the 2008 compromise.

This time, it's an even more contentious trip as our politicians argue over every tiny little detail. They sound like a group of children in the back of a non-air-conditioned 1965 Buick station wagon on a long summer road trip to grandma's house:

"Ma, he touched me!"

"No, I didn't! She's making faces at me!"

"Stop it, both of you! Don't make me turn this car around!"

Republicans and Democrats are deeply divided on funding for farm subsidies, conservation programs and SNAP — especially SNAP. The right thinks it's using a scalpel for judicious cuts; the left sees it as a machete unfairly slashing at the necks of the disadvantaged.

A politician standing in the middle of the road on any of the pieces and parts of the current bill understands that he could be run over by traffic coming from either direction. Standing tall in the middle of this battle field means certain death by "friendly" fire.

Earlier, Reuters reported, "Two prominent conservative groups, the Club for Growth and Heritage Action, came out ... against the subsidy bill because no amendments would be allowed."

"It is still loaded down with market-distorting giveaways to special interests, with no path established to remove the government's involvement in the agriculture industry," Club for Growth, a group that favors limited government, said in a July 10 blog post.

Allowing "no amendments" is a good thing, in my opinion. Too often, amendments are used as weapons to kill a normally acceptable bill or fully qualify as disconnected but still rancid pork barrel nonsense used to line the pockets of influential constituents.

Regardless of the Conservative position, though, the split bill will not go forward. The American Farm Bureau Federation, the most powerful U.S. farm group, was joined by the National Farmers Union in unanimous votes against the idea. The Senate will create an impenetrable road block for anything that comes close to resembling the House version.

Realistically, a temporary extension of the 2008 law seems like the only way to resolve the current snit. Congress did it after the 2008 bill expired in September 2012. There is no guarantee that they won't have to do it again ... and again ... and again.

Maybe they're waiting for the midterm elections before this body — the 113th and least productive Congress in modern history — makes any meaningful decision ... like leaving it all to the 114th Congress.

*Chuck Jolley is president of Jolley & Associates, a marketing and public relations firm that concentrates on the food industry.

Volume:85 Issue:29

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