Finding a thrill on Capitol Hill


Half the fun of visiting legislators in Washington D.C. is hearing and watching the rhetoric and political maneuvering. That same “fun” is also half the frustration in watching the legislative wheels move ever so slowly.

Traveling to the nation’s capital with the Ohio Farm Bureau county presidents last week, I realized once again that the real work is done by Hill staffers with an average age of about 26, typically white, clean cut, with a degree in political science. While the elected officials are posturing for CSPAN, the grunts are burning the midnight oil in a behind-the-scenes flurry.

If you do a good job, you can grow up to be a lobbyist.

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Reported in the March 13 issue of the The Hill: When asked if his praise of President Bush’s decision to impose quotas on foreign steel imports means he might support a Bush re-election, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney tersely said, “No.”

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A Northeast Interstate Dairy Compact ain’t gonna happen if Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, has anything to say about it.

“It’s just unworkable policy,” Boehner told the Ohioans.

Boehner, who sits on the House Ag Committee and is on the conference committee hammering out a compromise farm bill, is on record as saying the compacts “are bad for consumers, bad for farmers and bad for the future of American agriculture.”

Boehner isn’t a fan of farmland preservation efforts either, if his comments to the Ohioans are any indication. “It’s (farmland preservation) impossible; the market will make that determination,” he said last week. “Trust me, there’s a lot of land out there.”

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Regarding payment limitations, U.S. Rep. Charlie Stenholm told the Ohioans, “If you wish to farm half your county, more power to you. But your check shouldn’t come from the government treasury.”

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Does it matter whether of not farmers go to Washington or Columbus? What impact can one person have, anyway?

Ohio Farm Bureau Vice President and Fayette County Commissioner Bob Peterson said his first visit to Washington in 1991 was eye-opening. Peterson who farms with his brother and father near Washington Court House, said fair implementation of wetland regulations and wetland definitions was a hot topic at that time, and the Farm Bureau leaders heard from an EPA administrator on the subject.

Peterson slipped out the side door that he noticed the administrator came in through, engaged an aide in conversation and then when the administrator came out from the lecture hall, Peterson talked with him for an additional 30 minutes.

The conversations gave him additional knowledge, but also shared a producer’s viewpoint with a bureaucrat.

Peterson admits his visits probably won’t sway a legislator’s vote.

“Did I change a Congressman’s mind? Not hardly,” Peterson said. “But what I did do was put a face on an issue.”

The old saying about “you can’t play unless you’re in the arena” is true. Farmers won’t be heard unless they’re willing to be that voice, that face on an issue. You can’t leave that to the lobbyists.

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“A conference committee is all about compromise,” said Mary Kay Thatcher, American Farm Bureau Federation deputy director of public policy. “Everyone is going to have to take things they don’t like.”

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“The best farm program is people working,” said U.S. Rep. Ralph Regula, whose current district covers Ashland, Holmes and Wayne counties, and most of Stark and part of Knox counties.

But then this is from the legislator who didn’t have a clue as to the status of the farm bill, that it had passed the Senate and was in conference.

“I’m not on a committee that deals with it,” Regula said, explaining why he hasn’t followed the key legislation.


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