Political maneuvering hits farm bill


Three months ago, U.S. lawmakers from both parties rightfully pushed aside partisan squabbling and stood side by side on the Capitol steps in a show of patriotism perhaps unrivaled in American history.

Fast forward to today, and the Great Divide has returned.

Unfortunately, hanging precariously across the legislative chasm is the farm bill.

Senate and House leaders traded barbs last week in the latest round of farm bill politics. Sen. Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and House Ag Committee Chairman Larry Combest, R-Texas, exchanged criticisms and pointed fingers at who is to blame for the Senate stall.

Combest was wishing the Senate would get a move on, and get a farm bill to a conference committee before the year’s end. Daschle said those difficult Republicans were using delay tactics to slow completion on the Senate floor.

“I am committed to doing all that I can to make that happen this year,” Daschle said. “I do, however, remain concerned about repeated and inexplicable delays by my colleagues on the other side of the aisle that make this increasingly difficult… Their tactics have already delayed this bill by well over a week.”

Across Capitol Hill, Combest was accusing Daschle of the same thing. “For the Senate to delay passage of the farm bill and then not complete their job is like shining up the tractor, driving up to the edge of the field and stalling the engine,” Combest quipped. “Apparently, Senator Daschle is content to leave farmers stuck in limbo for months to come.”

The Senate was scheduled to vote on the farm bill this week.

The White House may cut in on the lawmakers’ dance, because it is not particularly enamored with either farm bill version. “The administration believes it is unnecessary and unwise to undertake action on a farm bill in this wartime, national emergency environment,” said U.S. Ag Secretary Ann Veneman earlier this fall. “While we are firmly committed to completing farm bill reauthorization before it expires next September, we need to focus our collective attention at this time on the immediate challenges facing our nation.”

Like an economic jump start package, for example.

The budget process, set to begin in late winter, is also muddying the waters. Even if the Senate approves a bill this week, it’s not clear whether or not there is enough time for a conference committee to hammer out its compromises before the holiday recess, or if the farm bill will have to wait until after the new year. If so, there’s only a “narrow window,” in Daschle’s words, after the recess to get a farm bill out of conference committee in January.

And as if this marionette didn’t have enough strings tugging in all directions, add the fact that 2002 is an election year. That means the political posturing includes just enough maneuvering and rhetoric to satisfy constituents next year.

Stay tuned.


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