Written by Paul Penner Tuesday, 24 July 2012 13:34
Drought and politics. These things seem to have much in common with each other. In one, people are cranky and hot and refuse to budge from their cool, comfortable positions....and then there’s the drought, where people are cranky and hot and refuse to budge from their cool, comfortable positions.
In either case, it’s time for a real and substantial change in the climate. The only good thing about either one is it reminds us how much we rely on dependable weather and dependable political relationships for our survival.
Were it not for the great wheat crop, not to mention a reasonably adequate crop insurance program, this year could have easily been a complete financial bust.
Rather than facing a disastrous drought and certain financial hardship, farmers receive an insurance payment that covers not all, but a majority of production expenses, thus enabling them to continue operations until next year’s crops are in the ground.
Thanks to the efforts of many forward-thinking farmers over the past two decades, grassroots commodity organizations, including the National Association of Wheat Growers, the National Corn Growers Association and others, were enabled to create a reasonably adequate safety net during past farm bill negotiations and get it passed with bipartisan support.
This reasonable safety net, however, may not survive intact if the farm bill is not passed and signed into law before the year’s end when the budgetary sequestration process is scheduled for implementation.
Unfortunately, since the last election, “bipartisanship” is not a popular word in the House of Representatives. Compromise is another new dirty word to be avoided at all costs. It leaves no wiggle room for negotiation. It only strengthens resolve in the opposition. It offers few opportunities for creating a win-win solution that both sides can accept. Worst of all, it creates a future financial crisis for agriculture that is avoidable.
Back when the Senate began deliberating the farm bill, House Agricultural Committee members Committee Chair Frank Lucas and their Speaker, Rep. John Boehner, naively dismissed the Senate Agricultural Committee’s resolve to get a bipartisan bill completed and introduced on the Senate floor.
However, in four hours, the chair of the Senate Agricultural Committee, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, and ranking committee member, Sen. Pat Roberts, announced to the world that it was ready for a vote on the Senate floor, which later passed with bipartisan support.
Perhaps energized by the speed, if not the cooperative spirit and leadership in the Senate, the House Ag Committee finally went to work and passed its own version of the farm bill, but not in record time and not without some controversy. The bill is seriously flawed and heavily weighted in favor of Southern states, utilizing an outmoded target price program that though it is generous to cotton, rice and peanut growers, it is certain to face legal challenges from Brazil and Russia through the World Trade Organization.
Thanks to Brazil’s success in its last legal challenge against U.S. cotton growers, that country need not file any more protests but are allowed to unilaterally implement a high tariff against American products.
That said, the farm bill is ready for a vote by the full House membership. Speaker Boehner, fearing a negative backlash from Tea Party Republicans who are unwilling to compromise on the nutrition portion of the legislation, is reluctant to schedule floor time for debate. He is unwilling to publicize the political wrangling between Republicans so Democrats can use this as political fodder in the upcoming primary elections. Thus, the farm bill is held hostage in the meantime.
This scenario is like the proverbial boy holding his finger in the dike while the dam is breaking all around him. Rather than argue over how much nutrition programs should be cut, both sides should focus on ways to lower the jobless rate and create a long-term reduction in the poverty rate, now pegged at 15.7 percent and rising, with record numbers of people falling out of the middle class.
If one were to ever wish for a perfect storm to underscore the importance of agriculture and a stable food source, this is it.
The time for political brinksmanship and hostage taking has passed. The time for action is now. This farm bill must be passed and enacted before the year’s end.
Marion County Kansas voters, agriculture is your state’s premier industry. It is vital that this legislation moves forward so it can be finished in the conference committee for final changes before approval by both houses and signed into law.
Please contact your representative, Congressman Tim Huelskamp, and tell him to do whatever he can to encourage and assist Speaker Boehner in moving this bill forward to a vote.