What's the rush? Some months ago, a farm bill analyst said in these pages that Congress had plenty of time to write a new farm bill; that all the scurrying around by House Agriculture Committee members was too much, too soon.
That turned out to be another case of an expert not knowing what he was talking about. The House Agriculture Committee completed its work a few months later, reporting a bill the House passed in late July. The Senate Agriculture Committee dithered for months, finally voting out a bill the full Senate didn't OK until Dec. 17.
Now Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., the chief architect of the House farm bill, is trying to get the process rolling again, releasing a new proposal that seems to have won at least tacit approval from the Bush administration.
Farm organizations have panned the proposal by Peterson, the House Committee chairman, and Bob Goodlatte, its ranking minority member, saying it gives up too much of what they fought to get in the House version of the farm bill.
The National Cotton Council, long considered the pre-eminent farm bill-lobbying group, was one of the first to object, saying the Peterson-Goodlatte proposal took money from cotton's baseline and provided nothing in return.
During its annual meeting in Memphis, Tenn., Council Chairman John Pucheu cited a 14-point package that made improvements in the cotton-marketing loan as one of the best features of the new farm bill. That — and one providing assistance to the U.S. textile industry — appear to have been left out of the proposal.
The American Soybean Association said the Peterson-Goodlatte plan “reversed the limited progress ASA achieved in the House bill to provide more equitable income support to soybeans and eliminates funding to make U.S. biodiesel producers competitive with imported biodiesel.”
The National Corn Growers Association, which has been working since the last farm bill to try to pass an improved counter-cyclical program, was watching the revenue counter-cyclical program it supported in the House bill fade off into the sunset.
“This framework does not contain a revenue program growers will view as an option,” said NCGA President Ron Litterer. “It simply fails to address the changes in our industry, the realities of today's marketplace, and the increasing levels of risk farmers are facing well into the future.”
Corn Grower leaders said they understood the fiscal realities — the White House has threatened to veto the farm bill unless its costs are reduced — House and Senate leaders face.
But farm groups are beginning to ask why they put in all that effort over the last 12 to 18 months if it could be wiped out in the stroke of Chairman Peterson's pen. And why are Democrats so eager to give in to the White House to meet an arbitrary deadline and arbitrary administration budget numbers?
Most of the current law's provisions remain in effect through the end of the current harvest. So, again, what's the rush?