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Not surprised at farm bill failure to launch

Since sometime last spring I’ve been skeptical of the likelihood that the U.S. Congress would pass a farm bill this year.

My skepticism was well-founded. It may have been as well-founded as my skepticism last fall when the “not so” super committee convened to work out a bi-partisan deal on budget cuts and revenue enhancements. Remember, that committee was composed of the same two parties that had failed, miserably, to come close to any understanding on any piece of legislation for two years. And the committee was equally divided—entrenched Democrats on one side, immovable Republicans on the other. Failure was, if not inevitable, a dang good bet.

The intransigence of that body did not bode well for passage of a farm bill this year. Nothing occurred from last fall until this summer and early fall to suggest that any member of either house on either side of either aisle had any compulsion to agree with any member of the other party on anything—much less on anything that might help the other party. 

I’m not certain which, or if either, party would have gained by enacting a farm law this fall. It is an election year, however, so any bill that could help the incumbent would be viewed askance by the opposition. But also, any bill that would put the opposition party in a good light would be negatively viewed by the incumbents.

“It’s Catch-22,” Yossarian said. “It’s the best catch there is.”

That’s something I remember from the Joseph Heller novel I read in college. It was also a forgettable movie. But the gist of the story was that failing to do something important and justifying it because of reams of red tape and layers of confusion is as good an excuse as any and better than most.

That’s how Congress operates these days. Obfuscate the obvious. Delay, delay, delay until action is no longer possible, and blame the other party for inaction. This, by the way, should be considered a non-partisan diatribe. Both Houses of Congress and both parties have been inept, to be kind, cowardly, to put a harsher tone to it.

Congress has failed to represent the people who put individual members in office. Congress has failed to consider what is in the best interest of the country. Congress has failed to put self interest aside and just do what’s right.

And Congress has failed America’s farmers and ranchers by refusing to consider a farm bill that would have at least offered some guidance for decision-making and an opportunity to consider best management practices for the next few years.

Congress punted from the other team’s 20-yard line. They fumbled in the red zone. They continued, in their own words, “to kick the can down the road,” leaving agriculture to wonder when it’s likely to have some program to use as a template for farm management.

Lest I get too cynical, both the House and the Senate ag committees worked in bi-partisan fashion to craft farm bills. Most industry observers say the House version would have been the better fit. A compromise committee likely would have worked out some differences—if given the chance—and produced a bill that, while not satisfying everyone would have at least not left anyone completely out in the cold.

But those committees have historically worked across party lines to create the best program they could for rural America. They don’t always operate in lock-step, but they always seem to come to grips with what’s needed in farm country. The larger bodies are less cooperative.

Reasonable people should be able to come up with reasonable solutions—except when politics get in the way.


TAGS: Legislative
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