The big wins Senate and House Democrats enjoyed Nov. 7 will deliver them bigger titles, bigger offices, bigger staffs, bigger responsibilities and bigger expectations when the 110th Congress convenes in early January.
Ideas. What the big victories have yet to deliver, however, are big ideas. Ideas have been slow in coming, partly because the expiring, lame-duck Congress continues to suck much of the air out of Washington.
Most of the remaining oxygen is being burned on Iraq, a la Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s quick exit Nov. 8 and the Iraq Study Group’s report to the president Dec. 6.
Another idea-stifler is the federal budget mess. Since the election, the about-to-be-turned-out Republicans have punted the 2007 budget writing – which, for crying out loud, took effect last Oct. 1 – to the Democrats next year.
That means the new kids must cobble together a 2007 spending plan (by March 1, say the guessers) before moving on to the 2008 budget. That budget, in turn, must be in place Oct. 1.
Cleaning house. The abbreviated, six-month cycle means less time for hearings, bill writing, needed compromise and hoped-for competence. In short, before the new Congressional leaders can lead, they have to sweep up the broken glass left by the old leaders. Behind the scenes, however, some Dems already are shaking their brooms.
In a briefing with Capitol Hill aggies Dec. 6, likely incoming House Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson laid out his hopes for the full committee and his version of the 2007 farm bill.
Peterson, a penny-pinching Minnesotan, expects the committee to be composed of 25 or so Dems and 21 Republicans, the reverse of the current split.
Public slicing and dicing. He also will seek a new “renewable energy” subcommittee to oversee today’s growing biofuel industry. Its likely leader will be the Ag Committee’s vice chairman, Tim Holden of Pennsylvania.
One the chairman’s better new ideas is an old one. Peterson plans to allow the committee’s subcommittees – presently five, in the future six – to mark up, or outline, the 2007 farm bill according to each subcommittee’s specialty: livestock, conservation, specialty crops, general farm commodities and department operations.
Their work, he explains, will be done during public sessions, then forwarded for full committee consideration where the bill will be stitched together. If so, the 2007 legislation will be the first farm bill since 1991 to be done in complete sunlight.
Under the Republicans, both the 1996 and most of the 2002 bill were written under the covers by GOP leaders, then foisted on the committee and Congress – once without an Ag Committee vote.
Timetable. Peterson’s timetable calls for House aggies to complete their work by the beginning of the month-long August recess, then final passage sometime in mid-September.
The soon-to-be chairman also offered key elements he wants to include in the legislation: a standing disaster title, a new, 5-million acre biomass reserve, keeping today’s near-40-million acre Conservation Reserve Program, moving Department of Energy loan programs for biomass to the Department of Agriculture, and extending today’s general commodity programs, but with adjustments to current target and loan prices.
Noticeably absent in that wish list, however, is the National Corn Growers Association’s idea to move farm price supports to a revenue-based insurance program and the administration’s call to loosen restrictions on ethanol imports.
Vote of no support. Peterson supports neither. Peterson bluntly forecasts that the new Congress will not extend President Bush’s Fast Track Trade Authority when it expires next June 30.
That vote, he predicts, will be held off until after a new president moves into the White House in January 2009.
Additionally, he believes the new Congress will quickly pass the oft-defeated aid package for farmers and ranchers whacked by 2005 and 2006 weather disasters; most likely during its initial week. (The White House warned Dems Dec. 5 that President Bush would veto the multi-billion dollar bail-out.)
Indeed, Peterson relates, incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi plans to hold five-days-a-week House sessions, as opposed to the GOP’s typical three-day work weeks, throughout January to clear its docket of lame duck leftovers.
All that remains is getting the gavel, then getting to work.
(Alan Guebert’s Farm and Food File is published weekly in more than 75 newspapers in North America. He can be contacted at email@example.com.)
STAY INFORMED. SIGN UP!
Up-to-date agriculture news in your inbox!