Editorial commentary: Keeping one eye on Washington

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I’m not an expert on anything. I know a little about a lot of things – that comes with the territory of a lifetime of reading and writing and asking questions. Like most people, when I want to know something about a specific subject, I try to find out who’s the “expert” in the field, who’s on top of what’s going on, and who can interpret issues in language I can understand.

By way of the Internet, I’ve found a Washington outsider who can succinctly translate what’s going on inside our nation’s capital – Larry Sanders, an ag economist at Oklahoma State.

His ag policy update (www.agecon.okstate.edu/agpolicy/index.html) – when it’s up to date – is easy to digest and gets to the meat of the matters. I like to check out his comments every once in awhile, just to keep tabs on what’s going on across the Potomac.

Most recently, Sanders observes that D.C. activity is coming to a screeching halt as it does in just about every election year.

For example, our country’s new fiscal year began Oct. 1, but Congress has yet to pass needed spending bills. Instead, lawmakers are skipping merrily along under “continuing resolutions,” which extends “the work of the government on the current budget.” We’re operating under a second, time-limited continuing resolution (the first one expired Oct. 4).

The ag spending bill has been OK’d by both the House and Senate ag committees, but hasn’t been up for a floor vote yet. A $6 billion ag disaster aid amendment to the Senate Interior spending bill hasn’t gone to conference yet, Sanders reports. Even the spending bills that have passed through both halls of Congress have yet to make it to the president’s desk.

Other legislative actions? “Virtually all have been mired in politics,” says Sanders, “and there’s plenty of finger-pointing in the blame game.

“The Republicans blame the Democrats and the Democrats blame the Republicans. Surprise, surprise.”

“Until the election is over,” Sanders adds, “the people’s business of governing will take second place in Washington.”

of course, one of the key items that is getting lots of attention and debate is the Congressional resolution supporting action against Iraq. Sanders is quick to point out that he cannot make judgments on whether or not such action is the right course of action (“The President has information that none of the rest of us has.”), he will say that a new Iraqi war would destabilize markets in the region and “our economy in general, at least in the short term.”

Sanders cites a Congressional Budget Office report that details the likely federal cost of such action:

“Depending on whether it is an air war, ground war, brief or lengthy, the report says the cost could be as little as $21 billion and as much as over $270 billion.”

Those figures, he adds, say “nothing of the costs to the general and agricultural economy in destabilized markets and higher energy costs.”

Closer to the agricultural home front, Sanders says, although unlikely, “history suggests that the United States might use food as a weapon of war and put selective embargoes in place.”

There could also be some “economic retaliation by countries who don’t support our effort, and this could spill over into our ag markets, reducing export sales,” he added.

I realize the activities of Washington seem far removed from your farms and homes, but obviously they impact your livelihood and your lives greatly. It’s important to keep at least one eye on D.C.

Even if that eye belongs to Larry Sanders.

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