Somewhere along the line, the lazy dog days of August turned loud and bitter.Three years ago, August was consumed by what was to be a debate on national health care, but quickly turned into a shouting match that found Grandma standing before government-led “death panels.” The noise lessened that winter and the Affordable Care Act became law in early 2010. Last August was to feature the Grand Bargain, a time when political leaders, after some friendly golf, were to strike a deal that delivered less federal spending, more tax reform and a clear route to budget sanity. The leaders, however, bogeyed, then handed the ball to a bipartisan Super Committee that was neither bipartisan nor super. In the end, all agreed to not agree. This August appears on the same, failing path as the nation’s key farm and ranch areas continue to be roasted by record-breaking heat and toasted by a near record-breaking drought. Brown, not green, is the nation’s color as crop yields continue to evaporate and livestock feed, if available, is almost as precious as rain.
As bad as the farm and ranch picture appears, the nation’s food picture is almost certain to get worse.As noted here two weeks ago, food and commodity stocks held by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Commodity Credit Corp., our national pantry, do not exist. CCC holds neither one pea nor one slice of bacon. Moreover, as regional crop insurance experts debate — really just guess — how bad the drought and its impacts will be on rural America, few experts anywhere have examined how much the drought will cost all Americans, 85 out of 100 who still believe groceries grow in air conditioned grocery stores.
So what is being done to address the still-building consequences of the worst drought in more than a half-century? Not much.In Washington, the Senate, which completed its 2012 farm bill in June, awaits the House to act on its Ag Committee’s recently-passed proposal. Until the House passes that bill, all work on any farm bill remains on hold and nothing can be done to marry the two plans together in time for September action. In fact, House leaders spent most of July’s last week carefully avoiding any farm bill action because the GOP-led chamber couldn’t muster the necessary votes to muscle it through. If a 2012 farm bill deal is out of reach, so too may be any disaster-based action. No one in either party seems capable of bridging their deep divisions to stave off a massive market mess, on the farm and in the supermarket, come winter. Indeed, about the only thing any of the leaders now seem to agree on is the need to hightail it out of town for the traditional, month-long August recess. And they need it; they haven’t had a vacation since the first week of July.
On top of that, July has been a very taxing month for the House and its leaders because, for the 33rd time since the Affordable Care Act became law in 2010, the House voted to repeal it.Like the 32 times before, however, the vote was meaningless posturing because actual repeal requires the Senate to repeal and a Presidential signature and neither of those actions had not and will not happen anytime soon. So as replays of lost battles continue to consume our leaders’ time in Washington — the House has devoted 80 hours of floor debate to its 33 going-nowhere votes to repeal the health law and, as of July 25, not one minute to the 2012 farm bill — no one seems capable of focusing on our farm and food needs for the coming year. But it’s a pretty sure bet that most of our political leaders will yipping, yapping and yakking everywhere in the coming weeks because it’s August and that’s what they do in August. Talk, of course, is cheap. Doing nothing often isn’t. (The Farm and Food File is published weekly in more than 70 newspapers in North America. Contact Alan Guebert at www.farmandfoodfile.com.)