The mid-June Congressional action on ag programs seems to confirm why Washington D.C.’s streets feature roundabout upon roundabout: moving left or right — a big deal on Capitol Hill now — usually lands you back where you started.
For proof, look no further than House of Representative’s 217-203 vote June 16 to approve 2012 USDA spending. Not one Dem voted with the majority Repubs and only two House Ag Committee Repubs, newcomer Kristi Noem, S.D., and Steve King, Iowa, voted with the Dems. (Both wanted deeper cuts.)
That means every other House GOP aggie, from Chairman Frank Lucas, Okla., to senior members like Bob Goodlatte, Va., and Tim Johnson, Ill., voted to slice $3 billion from USDA discretionary funding, gut mandatory conservation funding by $1 billion and cut $685 million from the Women, Infant and Children feeding program.
Prior to that let-the-poor-eat-nothing vote, members passed two biscuits to some of their wealthiest constituents. First, the House defeated an amendment to cap annual program payments at $125,000 and, later, voted down an effort to lower program eligibility to farmers with yearly gross incomes under $250,000, $500,000 if married.
Back-of-the-envelope math shows that if the House bill becomes law, the 10 percent of American farmers who receive 74 percent of all program payments, according to USDA, will pocket 7.7 times more taxpayer cash than the estimated 200,000 to 350,000 women and children dropped from WIC by the cuts would have received in food aid.
Does anyone believe cutting $685 million in food aid to the poor and politically weak while sending more than $5 billion in farm program money to the better off and politically powerful will balance the 2012 federal budget? No, but the emptiness of budget gimmicks like this has never stopped camera-ready politicians from pulling down the powerless in order to stand taller among the powerful.
The entire bill, forwarded to that giant roundabout known as the U.S. Senate, is going nowhere because its Democratic leaders are loath to endorse any Republican action, let alone one that cuts food aid to the poor, takes a big bite out of soil and water conservation and puts a knife in the heart of the farm bill’s Conservation Security Program.
But wait, there’s more roundabout legislating.
For example, the House bill orders Congress not to pay $147 million to the Brazilian Cotton Institute as required by the World Trade Organization when it ruled that U.S. cotton subsidies (in the 2002 farm bill) violated WTO standards.
Fine, don’t pay; but how do you square that action with calls for more free trade by nearly every House member every day? You can’t, so the anti-WTO vote is nothing but political hypocrisy by political hypocrites.
And then there’s ethanol.
On June 14, the Senate, on a 40-59 vote, defeated an effort by Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn to kill two of ethanol’s three government subsidies, the 45-cents per gallon blending credit and the 51-cents per gallon import tariff.
Two days later, however, the Senate overwhelmingly approved nearly identical legislation by a heavily bipartisan 73-27 vote, only this time it was introduced by a Dem, Dianne Feinstein, Calif.
Then it was sent to the House where it will go ’round and ’round because, as noted by the June 17 Wall Street Journal, “The House is expected to reject it and the White House opposes the measure.”
So the House isn’t going to adopt the Senate’s ethanol bill and the Senate won’t touch the House’s USDA funding bill because all of the dancing is just a prelude to the worst kept secret in Washington: There will be a continuing budget resolution — not a budget — hopefully by December.
See what I mean about the Washington D.C. streets? Around and around….
(The Farm and Food File is published weekly in more than 70 newspapers in North America. Contact Alan Guebert at www.farmandfoodfile.com.)
© 2011 ag comm