"Scathing" isn't really a strong enough word to describe the criticism that Kansas State University professor emeritus Barry Flinchbaugh and former Texas Congressman Charlie Stenholm heaped on Congress at the opening session of this year's Ag Media Summit in Albuquerque.
The pair, notorious from disagreement on questions of politics and ag policy, found more to agree about than to argue about when they launched a discussion on what needs to be done to pass a farm bill and to get the economy back on track.
Flinchbaugh set the stage with the forthright style that the thousands of K-State students who have occupied his classrooms for four decades would recognize instantly.
"The Blue Dog Democrats got beat, left town and turned Congress over to two groups of people, the Tea Party wingnuts on the right and the Pelosi wingnuts on the left," he said.
As a result, he said, Congress is now doing to American farmers what it has been doing to American business since 2007 – creating a paralyzing atmosphere of uncertainty.
"For years, ag has been the bright spot of the economy because it operated within the certainty of a Farm Bill that everybody would work with. That is no longer true," he said. "The last Gallup poll gave Congress a 9% approval rating. If I were a part of this Congress, I'd be too embarrassed to go home. I hope they get an earful of what they royally deserve."
He went on to praise the work of Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, the ranking Republican on the Senate ag committee and Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the chairman. The pair crafted, with bipartisan effort, what Flinchbaugh calls "a pretty good Farm Bill."
As a result, he said, ag leadership stands out.
"Our ag leaders make the top leaders, Boehner and Reid and Pelosi and McConnell, look like real dogs," he said. "Stabenow and Roberts operated in the classic way that shows they know how Democracy is supposed to work."
He also praised Republican Rep. Frank Lucas and Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, the leaders of the House Ag Committee, who also moved a bill out of committee with strong bipartisan support only to see it never move to the floor of the House for a vote.
Flinchbaugh apologized for "sounding negative" and asserted that he was "born an optimist and will die an optimist." But, he said, "I sure as hell better not die tomorrow."
Stenholm agreed with Flinchbaugh's assessment of the work to be done and his condemnation of the job Congress is doing of attacking that work.
"We need to get back to looking at how we can work together to solve the problems of our country," he said. "We have to find ways to agree that compromise is not a four-letter word. I find it unbelievable that Congress went home without passing a Farm Bill."
Stenholm said he doesn't think the Nov. 6 election will make much difference because the country is too polarized and too many politicians are representing the interests of niche groups and not their constituents.
He said he sees two big problems looming: the fiscal cliff of the deficit and a growing world population and the challenge of providing enough food.
He warned that the consequences of going over the "fiscal cliff" could be catastrophic because nobody knows just where the bottom of the cliff lies or when a fall over could be halted.
On feeding the world, he said bluntly that he thinks most Americans don't care whether or not the world is fed and those who do care know that only biotechnology, developing plants that can make more food with less water, can solve the problem.
The two also agreed that the mainstream media makes the country's problems worse with a 24/7 news cycle churning out heavily polarized reporting.
Flinchbaugh said he "could count on the fingers of one hand the times I've been screwed by the ag media."
Not so of the mainstream media, he said. "I don't have enough fingers and toes to county the times I have been screwed by the big city media. We need to bring back ethics in journalism. On the right, you have people listening to Fox News and believing everything they say even the biggest lie of all 'fair and balanced.' On the left, you have people listening to MSNBC and believing every word they hear. News has become propaganda and entertainment, not at all wheat it was meant to be."
That creates a real problem, he said, because we don't get a true picture of what the problem is.
"We can't solve a problem if we don't accurately define it," he said.
The pair also agreed on the likely result of the coming election, even agreeing that it probably won't make much difference in the ability to get things done.
Stenholm said he thinks the GOP will lose seats, but hold the House and the Senate is a toss-up. Today, he said, he would say that Obama will be re-elected, not by his own efforts, but because of Romney's campaign weakness.
"I think Obama will not win, he will just fail to lose," Flinchbaugh said. "The Republican primary process was the most embarrassing thing I have seen in a long while. Romney was pushed further and further right in his positions on everything from health care to immigration."
On the financial crisis, the pair agreed that Wall Street continues to be a huge problem. Flinchbaugh said he has served on the board of the Kansas City Baord of Trade for years and that many of the financial instruments traded today are extremely complicated.
"Still, derivatives traded on exchanges are not the problem," he said. "But they face regulation while the old bucket shops of the '30s continue to operate. And I think Dodd Frank has made it worse."
On the Renewable Fuels Standard, Stenholm said he doesn't think the mandate really matters. It is whether or not the market supports ethanol that matters.
"I think it could be waived for a year to ease the problems with the drought," he said.
Flinchbaugh said a year's waiver might seem all right, but a year tends to become permanent in the government world and he thinks the long-term goal of energy independence should be the priority.
Both also expressed longing for the "old days" of leaders such as Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill.
Flinchbaugh said voters should "fire the whole damn Congress and put the Blue Dogs back in," and Stenholm said the credit for much of the prosperity of the Clinton years should be shared with George H.W. Bush who "built the foundation and the walls of a balanced budget."
He said nothing would have been accomplished without compromise. The new Congress, he said, needs to agree to get the job done.
He said newly elected Congressmen should go to Washington prepared to cut spending, increase taxes and pass legislation in the best interests of the American people.
"Come to Washington ready to work as many hours as needed to get the job done, make decisions, debate issues, vote and let the majority rule," he said. "What's so tough about that?"