You know the saying, ‘with friends like these’? How it’s playing in D.C.

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The American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation are two well-established, politically-conservative Washington, D. C. think tanks.

How conservative are they?

Let’s just say that if the Environmental Working Group and the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities are the espresso and Brie of Washington D.C. policy centers, AEI and Heritage are their red meat and cabbage counterparts.

Both are also rich, strongly pro-business and not shy to call most government programs too big and every tax cut too small. They are loyal, diligent and tough.

Those traits should make Heritage and AEI near-perfect allies of politically conservative, small-government favoring ag groups who work Capitol Hill.

Not so

AEI and Heritage have raised enough questions and thrown up enough roadblocks to effectively keep any 2013 farm bill rewrite corralled in the House of Representatives until either the cows come home or it is put in the kettle of what is brewing to be a very bloody federal budget-debt limit stew this fall.

That’s exactly where farm bill backers didn’t want to be and, yet, a tea-powered Heritage Foundation and pro-free market AEI have rallied House friends and foes alike to place ’em there.

They had help. Club for Growth, a huge funder of tea-party Republican conservatives in Congress (and financial backer of challengers to those Republicans it deems not conservative enough) joined Heritage to undermine the House version of the farm bill in June.

Heritage then kept up the attack and, according to most farm bill watchers, was the intellectual force behind House GOP leaders’ July move to separate the two traditional elements of all modern farm bills, farm support programs and food assistance, for stand-alone votes.

Wolf revealed

After it got the vote it sought — the farm programs-only bill narrowly passed July 11 with just Republican votes — Heritage blew its top.

The very reason to split farm programs from food programs, it insisted, had been “wasted” by “the passage of this bill” that contained no farm program reform.

In fact, Heritage foamed, GOP leaders “made this bill even worse — by sneaky changes… so that some of the costliest and most indefensible programs no longer expire after five years…”

And, it went on, “It would spend more money than Obama on the largest farm program, crop insurance.”

More vitriol

Club for Growth was even angrier: The bill looked like “ ‘a rope-a-dope’ exercise (where) House leadership (can) get to conference with the Senate (for)…a backroom deal to reassemble the commodity and food stamp titles… leaving us back where we started — with no path… to remove government’s involvement in the agriculture industry.”

Western gunslinger

AEI lambasted both the Senate and House farm bills and did it mostly through the melodious voice and razor sharp words of Vincent H. Smith, a professor of economics at Montana State University and co-director of the university’s Agricultural Marketing Policy Center.

Smith, an AEI Visiting Scholar, has been devastating in his perfectly logical, perfectly phrased analyses of 2013 farm legislation. In a July 17 blog post at www.aei.org, Smith eviscerated all who even glanced at any part of the bill:

“The real puzzle is why any House representative, Republican or Democrat… would have voted for the 2013 House farm bill.

“The answer leads back to the wealthy farmers, insurance companies, and agri-business lobbies that benefit most from farm programs, and their influence in farm-heavy districts. They wanted to preserve and expand agricultural entitlement programs that pay their constituents billions….”

Wow; some friends, eh?

But these groups do practice what they preach — limited government, less taxes and a hatred of federally-subsidized farm programs, especially crop insurance.

Reality check

Still think you’re going to get a farm bill by the time the budget brawl breaks out Oct. 1? If so, have a tall iced tea and think about whether or not you could live with some variation of a two-year extension of the current law.

If it’s offered, consider it a gift… from your friends.

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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