On September’s two middle Wednesdays, American agriculture’s soft hands and hard hands – its lobbyists and farmers – brought their 2007 farm bill shopping lists to the House Agriculture Committee.
Each was written in broad, wide strokes and nothing on either was new or bold.
Timing. It was, however, an odd time for both the earnest list makers and listless list takers to meet at the money store that is today’s Congress.
What nincompoop House scheduler decided the third week of September was a good time for farmers to leave this year’s just-beginning harvest to plant next year’s far-off farm policy seeds? All fingers point to the Republican leadership.
Despite an almost pathological inability to get required work completed – an Oct. 1, 2007 federal budget on hold until after the November election; a comprehensive immigration reform bill as dead as Caesar; a languishing drought relief bill going nowhere fast – holding an ag dog-and-pony show now was little more than a pre-election gimmick to shore up the slipping rural Republican bloc.
Premature. Indeed, most farm groups viewed the hearings as a command performance, a costly, premature kick-off to legislation few are ready to invest in because no farm bill writing is scheduled to begin until after the new Congress convenes next January.
Thus this fall’s wasteful timeline: House Republicans strongly suspect there’s an even chance they could be in the minority after November so they needed to get their farm bill views on the record now.
Impressing? In fact, GOP members of the committee are so worried about impressing rural voters over their work ethic that some also invited three former secretaries of agriculture and the intellectual godfather of Freedom to Farm, Barry Flinchbaugh, the Kansas State ag economist who advocated the 1996 farm bill boondoggle to then-committee chair Pat Roberts, R-Kan., to testify before at other hearings.
What John Block, Reagan’s ag boss who hasn’t driven a tractor since he left his Illinois farm in the mid-70s, Clayton “Free-Trade-Forever” Yeutter, and Dan Glickman, who never farmed and now guides the Motion Picture Association (for crying out loud), could add to the debate defies even the kindest consideration of the former USDA chiefs.
Nothing new. And they didn’t disappoint; they said the same things all had said and said and said 10, 20 or 30 years ago.
Then again, the reps sent by 17 (17!) farm groups to the Sept. 19 hearing said nothing new either.
The marathon yakfest began with testimony for Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.
Stallman repeated the group’s main mantra: Congress should simply extend the 2002 farm bill because continuing America’s generous price support programs will force our ag trade critics like India and Brazil into accepting a more equitable World Trade Organization deal.
Bad medicine. There are three – among many more – key problems with AFBF’s prescription.
First, Ag Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., won’t bless a one- or multi-year extension because he, correctly, believes the WTO Doha Round is dead.
Second, even while Stallman was reviewing his testimony, U.S. trade officials were telling WTO combatants in Australia that the U.S. might make deeper (than the 60 percent previously offered) cuts in domestic ag subsidies to get the talks back on track.
The big farm groups have loudly and clearly warned the administration they will not endorse broader cuts without broader foreign market access.
On a slow track. And finally, President Bush’s Trade Promotion Authority, commonly called Fast Track, runs out June 30, 2007. Any trade deal hastily cut before the deadline has little chance of getting agriculture’s support and any deal cut after that date can, and likely will, be talked to death in Congress.
Stallman, however, wasn’t alone in presenting a list of tired or retread ideas.
The National Corn Growers suggested a revenue assurance program it confessed needed far more study before ready for prime time.
The American Soybean Association asked the 2002 farm bill be extended but oilseed price supports be raised. Ditto for the National Association of Wheat Growers.
And on and on it went, a colossal waste of time and money – an act this Congress has raised to an art form.
(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.)
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