If the writing of federal legislation is, as often described, a kabuki dance, then the farm bill passed by House Ag Committee July 19 is only the first, essential step of a complex drama that has two more months of rewrites before its scheduled Oct. 1 opening.
And it will be a grinding, ankle-twisting couple of months (and maybe longer) for several reasons.
First, the bill must clear the full House; a vote is scheduled for July 26, the day after my deadline.
Passage. While passage is not a slam-dunk, Democratic House leaders have worked diligently to stack the deck heavily in that direction: limited debate, almost no opportunity for floor amendments, an imprint of a fat, red kiss from Speaker Nancy Pelosi on its cover. (Pelosi’s endorsement of the committee bill, however, is seen as backtracking by the 2006 class of House Democrats. They thought they had her blessing for farm program reform – more conservation and nutrition spending, less price support cash.)
Next, the legislation – and all the hair-splitting, gut-splitting compromises included in it – will idle for a month as Congress takes its annual August siesta.
During that period, the ag political left, right and middle will cut it apart in the hope of showing Senate aggies how it can be improved when Washington reawakens after Labor Day.
Then comes the Senate version.
Senate. The Upper Chamber, pre-occupied most of the year with Iraq and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, has yet to cobble together a complete outline of its legislation.
Can its Ag Committee write a farm bill, pass it through committee, then the talk, talk, talk Senate, by mid- to late September?
Finally, whenever the Senate finishes, the really hard work begins: marrying two, probably distinctly different versions into one that then must be resubmitted to both chambers for final passage.
It’s a mind-numbing, idealism-killing process that only a wonk or a politician could love. But few people love this bill; not even House Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., who related in the July 24 press roll-out of it that six months of wrangling, arguing and compromise delivered a bill “that made every single member (of the committee) unhappy.”
Peterson’s counterpart, Ranking Minority Member Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, seconded that description moments later by noting, “There definitely is something in it for everyone to love and everyone to hate.”
Good and bad. Often as not, the love-hate somethings appear in the same sentence or paragraph of the House bill.
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