What Do Farm Bill Now and President Ford's Whip Inflation Now Have in Common?

September 13, 2012 04:07 AM

via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

They both failed

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It has been widely evident for quite some time that a new farm bill would not be completed before Congress leaves for Nov. 6 election campaigns. But that didn't stop a rather-late push by farm group lobbyists and some farm-state lawmakers to waste their time to hold media events about the "urgent" need for a new farm bill.

It reminded me of former President Gerald Ford's ill-fated Whip Inflation Now buttons. The only thing that message stuck to was a shirt that few people put the button on.

Fixation and focus, but ... That certain farm group lobbyists have been fixated on getting any new farm bill signed, sealed and delivered has been evident almost from the get-go. Now defeated in their quest, some of the group's members, including some lawmakers, are noting the problems that will occur after Sept. 30 should there be no 2008 Farm Bill extension. Don't believe it.

The farm bill world will not come to an end. Oh sure, there will be some glitches, but there are still several months before the lack of action on a new farm bill will cause consternation and some silly policy to unfold relative to 1949 legislation. That, too, will not happen. And recall there were several extensions of the 2002 Farm Bill before the 2007 farm bill (which became the 2008 Farm Bill) was finalized.

The push to reinstate lapsed livestock disaster programs should be laid at the door of Democratic lawmakers because it was their decision in the 2008 Farm Bill debate to truncate those programs in order to fit within budget constraints at the time. Those same lawmakers told livestock groups not to worry because there was "plenty of time" to correct the matter. Count the years, and you can see they didn't deliver on that pledge, either. But that isn't stopping Democratic House and Senate members from trying to point the finger at the lack of House farm bill action as the reason for the lapsed livestock disaster programs. And you even have Senate Ag Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) saying the votes are in the House to pass a farm bill, but you certainly don't here that count outcome prediction among top-tier House GOP leaders. It's all politics, all the time in this town and one should not be bothered by facts.

Livestock policy and economic impacts on their industry is usually an afterthought. Think no economic analysis at the time the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) was first proposed and passed, and then again when the corn ethanol mandate was nearly doubled in 2007. And then there was a lack of economic analysis when country-of-origin labeling found its way into the waning days of the farm bill debate, even though US meat industry lobbyists were "sure" no such language would be included. Some livestock groups spend way more time on their continued failed attempts to eliminate the estate tax and not on far more significant policy moves that clobbered their industry in real terms.

There will eventually be a new farm bill. I have previously thought the "logical" thing for Congress to do was to get past the Nov. 6 elections, and use the billions of dollars in farm bill savings as budget offsets for the additional spending we all know returning lawmakers will spend after the elections. But logic and Congress often are delinked. As I say in my speeches throughout the country, on a good day in Washington, D.C., one plus one equals three.

Cool hand Lucas. As for the new farm bill, whenever it comes, it will include a choice for a farmer and not be the static approach taken by the Senate in its version – a bill clearly advantageous to certain regions of the country (Midwest, northern Plains) but not so for the MidSouth and Delta. The final measure will include reference/target prices. I'm confident of that because House Ag Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) will chair the eventual farm bill conference (whenever and in what format that eventually unfolds). And Lucas is a strong proponent of giving farmers a choice between safety net programs.

Which brings up the question: Why is the Senate so cool toward offering farmers a choice? When I quizzed one such Senate proponent of the one-size-fits all approach, the observer told me, "Farmers under our bill will still get the same amount of money or protection, but it may switch to to other crops. But the farmer will still get that protection." Hmm. I then told that proponent, "But this is not just a farmer bill. It is a farm bill. It should be about the business of agriculture. What do you tell the rice mills, the cotton ginners, the wheat miller, and the peanut processors and the other just-as-important participants in those industries when they and would-be investors in their industries see that the safety net for those crops will not compare with some other crops, especially corn and soybeans?"

I'm still waiting for an adequate response.


NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.


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