Written by Paul Penner Tuesday, 22 May 2012 15:21
Politics. Either you love it or hate it. There’s no in-between. Consider the latest efforts by the ag community to push through a workable farm bill.
Prior to the creation of the Select Joint Committee for Deficit Reduction—aka The Super Committee—the work would have been conducted on a bipartisan basis. Today, that’s not necessarily a given.
Though the Senate’s version, as passed by their Agricultural Committee chaired by Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow was a bipartisan effort championed by Sen. Pat Roberts, the House Ag Committee’s efforts fall along partisan lines.
Rep. Tom Lucas (R-Okla.), the committee’s chair, sees things quite differently, largely influenced by the political ideologies of many freshman committee members who lack expertise in agricultural issues. That, and his own disagreement with the Senate committee’s version of the farm bill.
Lucas reflects his constituent’s sentiments and their desire to move back to a target price system. He is reminiscent of earlier days prior to when subsidies were decoupled from crop acres, freeing farmers to respond to market prices.
Farmers from Oklahoma and Texas, at the urging of economists from their respective land grant universities and with the endorsement of the Southwest Council on Agriculture of which each state’s commodity and livestock organizations are members, support Lucas’s effort. That made evident when his version of a new farm bill appeared before the Super Committee last fall.
Not one major national commodity lobbying organization—corn, beans and wheat—endorsed Lucas’s version, reflecting their own grassroots majority interests in working at fine-tuning the Senate’s version into a workable, flexible program that all commodities could accept.
To sum up the last four paragraphs in four words or less: It’s like herding cats.
Disagreements like this are nothing new, but our current financial debt crisis, not to mention the global financial crisis, puts things into greater contrast.
Plus, both parties are playing political gamesmanship with each other. Republicans, long known for a conservative stand on many issues like taxes, family values, abortion and gay rights—positions supported by a majority of farmers and rural residents living in the Midwest, including yours truly—are not consistent in their positions of policy.
For instance, farm programs no longer receive unqualified support by freshman Republican members of Congress. They also largely voted to end ethanol subsidies. Yet, they do not publicly support ending subsidies to oil companies that costs the U.S. Treasury billions each year.
Why? Opinions vary, and here’s mine. The argument in favor of ending farm subsidies goes this way: Farmers are making tons of money; they no longer need our support. It’s time to get off the government’s “farmer’s welfare program.”
I’ll buy that, provided they end subsidies to multi-trillion-dollar oil companies that posted ever-increasing record profits for the past two decades.
“Subsidies to oil companies support jobs and support a nationally strategic industry,” the argument goes. Subsidies to farmers is labeled “welfare,” perceived to be economically unimportant to job sustainability and not supporting a nationally strategic industry.
Yet, the net positive impact of only one minor matching federal program for research has been shown to add $32 for every dollar invested by federal taxpayer monies. Not to mention that our national security requires a healthy and prosperous agriculture that can withstand the extremes of weather and economic disasters.
Somehow, from a conservative perspective, there’s a disconnect between these two industries’ public images. One is demonized while, currently, the other is not.
President Obama, cognizant of the inconsistency in public policy, proposed ending subsidies to oil companies, thus taking a stand and forcing Republicans to support subsidies to big oil.
Meanwhile, Democrats, largely responding to checkmate their Republican counterparts, dig their heels in and refuse to budge from their liberal, social agenda. Thus, the cat herding mentality.
Please keep in mind I’m writing from a national perspective rather than a local one, but here is my conclusion: Follow the money, follow the influence.
Farmers rarely vote for a liberal politician, except perhaps in Iowa and Minnesota or another corn-belt state. They vote for conservative values, regardless whether they suffer consequences from it. They are willing to sacrifice for the common good, even if their sacrifice is disproportionate and grossly unfair.
Politicians know that, and use that to their advantage. Hence the disconnect and unequal treatment.
Having said that, from the perspective of a Kansas farmer who spends time on the Hill representing other farmers, Sen. Pat Roberts and Sen. Jerry Moran have always lived up to their commitment to faithfully serve their constituents, one of which is the Kansas farmer. Their voting record is evidence of their true loyalty.
The challenge for them and all of our elected representatives is to be effective in crafting legislation that serves the primary interests of Kansas taxpayers while negotiating the political maze that appears to be more chaotic than it has been for many years.