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Congress Has Earned Its Reputation

House and Senate negotiators failed to work out a deal on the farm bill before the end of the year.

A Gallup poll was released in early December that asked Americans to rank professions they believe are the most honest and trustworthy. The top profession was nurses with 85% saying they are very honest – 15% above doctors who scored 70%. Not surprisingly at the bottom of the list were members of Congress with 10%. Even bankers, journalists (yes, journalists), business executives, lawyers, stock brokers, and advertisers all ranked higher than members of Congress. The only profession Americans viewed as less trustworthy than members of Congress are car salesmen. In the poll, only 8% viewed them as being honest and trustworthy. Farmers were not included in this survey.

The results of this survey should not be surprising to anyone, especially when you consider how little Congress accomplished in 2013. Of the 6,375 bills and resolutions introduced in 2013, only 1% or 57 bills became law. That compares with only 67 bills passed by Congress in 2012. Partisan politics and gridlock is greatly reducing the productivity of Congress.

Farm bill negotiations
House and Senate negotiators have still not worked out a deal on the farm bill.

The House passed a short-term extension of the farm bill as efforts to do a longer-term bill before the end of the year fell short. But the Senate indicated it deems a temporary patch unnecessary.

The measure passed on a voice vote in the House would extend provisions of the 2008 farm bill, which lapsed in September, through Jan. 31. Lawmakers had been working to mesh rival farm bills passed by the House and the Senate, but said they were not be able to complete a bill in time to vote on it in 2013. A short-term extension will enable them to continue negotiations "without the threat that permanent law will be implemented," said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., referring to the decades-old law now in effect.

Reverting back to laws dating back to the late 1930s and 1940s will first affect dairy programs in early 2014, triggering government programs that could drive up the price of milk. But Senate Agriculture Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has told her the dairy programs will feel no effect in January.

"We won't be passing an extension," Stabenow said, predicting both chambers would be able to vote on a five-year farm bill sometime in January.

Both the House and Senate bills replace current dairy programs with a risk management program based on the margin difference between the price of milk and feed.  However, the Senate but not the House margin program contains a provision to control supply by encouraging supply reductions when margins are low. 

The bill approved by the House Agriculture Committee would make much larger cuts to food stamps than the Senate version. The Senate bill would cut the food stamp program, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, by about $400 million a year, or half a percent. The House bill would cut the program by $2 billion a year, or a little more than 3% and make it more difficult for some people to qualify.

In addition to be unproductive and failing to pass a farm bill, Congress did destructive things in 2013 as well. They shut down the government for two weeks in October which cost the economy $29 billion. They also threatened a public default on our nation's bills by threatening to not raise the debt ceiling. And now the Republicans are raising the prospect of another threat to defaulting on the public debt by not raising the debt ceiling again in February.

Long to-do list in 2014
There is much for Congress to work on in 2014. The first three things Congress needs to tackle when it is back in session later this month is complete negotiations on a farm bill and passing a farm bill, consider extending jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed and raising the debt ceiling before the middle of February. Other priorities for Congress in 2014 include passing immigration reform, considering a minimum wage hike from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour and possible tax reform.

We'll see anything actually happens – don't hold your breath.

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