Congress wraps up its least productive year ever

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Every year ends on Dec. 31.

Every baseball season ends with the World Series. Growing seasons end with a hard freeze and the opera season is over when a large, round lady sings.

Today’s ag political season, however, never ends. Farm bills take more than two years to write and they’re still not written. Negotiations to reform protective ag trade barriers began when today’s college freshman were in the first grade. With, still, no end in sight yet, these young adults may very well be MDs and PhDs before the WTO is D-O-N-E.

Key immigration changes, many advocated by national agricultural interests, somehow disappeared when a finished Senate immigration bill was walked the 50 yards from the Senate chamber to the House chamber. The bill remains lost and long-sought, necessary reforms remain stuck in some unmapped, Capitol Hill swamp.

More logjams

That list of national and multi-national political delay is long but not complete. Anyone seen or heard anything on federal tax reform lately? How about the secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and, by the way, doesn’t the U.S. debt ceiling need to be raised again come March?

In fact, the failure to complete — or, most times, even address — long-needed reforms or long-expired laws is the acceptable norm in law making today.

Not that long ago, a two-year-plus farm bill process would have been laughed out of town as bad joke that featured both bumbling nincompoops and red-nosed clowns. Today it isn’t a joke and it isn’t funny; it’s a fact.

Little work done

Indeed, babies that were born when Congress began its Farm Bill work in 2012 can now walk, talk and use their parents’ smartphones. Many lawmakers can, too, but what they can’t do is actually make law.

According to totals compiled by the Washington Post in early December, Congress has enacted “fewer than 60 public laws… in the first 11 months” of 2013.

And, adds the Post, “The figure is so below the previous low in legislative output that officials have already declared this first session of the 113th Congress the least productive ever.”

Enter the Election Year

There are few reasons to believe that Congressional work habits will improve in 2014. There are, however, many signs to suggest they will, if anything, slow even more.

First, 2014 is an election year and everyone on Capitol Hill knows election years are for, well, elections. That means that somewhere between 40 and 60 percent of every lawmaker’s day and night will be spent raising campaign money toward reelection and raising cane against “the usual Washington gridlock.”

In fact, the U.S. House set the table for just such slowdown when it hightailed out of town for Christmas two weeks before Christmas.

With its collective bags packed and waiting by the door, the House passed another, one-month extension of the 2008 farm bill, itself extended for a year in January 2013. The selling point, according to Ag Committee Chair Frank Lucas, was simple: House and Senate farm bill negotiators could use the extra time to complete a joint bill to ensure their many differences were ironed out prior to bringing the “conferenced” bill to their respective committees for approval.

More to the point, however, the delay also enables the peddlers of the now seven-year status quo continue to strip out reform elements of each chambers’ bill.

Already hard caps to farm program payments, passed by both the Senate and the House, are under siege. So, too, is country-of-origin labeling, despite 90 percent of all Americans wanting to know where their meat and poultry was born, raised and slaughtered.

In fact, there’s no evidence that Congress even acknowledges that the old year and old farm bill end on Dec. 31 and the new year and no farm bill begin Jan. 1.

It operates on a delay-decay calendar that, now, never ends.

About the Author

Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children. farmandfoodfile.com More Stories by Alan Guebert

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