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Going, Going, Going ... (Gone)? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Steve Dittmer   
Friday, 18 April 2008
AFF Sentinel Vol.5#18

Staving off expiration or refusing to die?

That was the question for the 2007 Farm Bill Friday. The House had passed a one-week extension of the previous 30-day extension of the 2002 law Thursday and the Senate did the same Friday. But the White House was not giving any hints as to whether President Bush, who had previously said he would not sign any additional short-term extensions, would relent on a week long rather than another month long extension.

The President has talks scheduled with President Lee of South Korea this weekend at Camp David.

Sources in Washington say House and Senate conferees continued to wrangle over tax breaks, new expenditures and revenue sources Thursday and Friday. The conferees then adjourned for the weekend. The Senate wants to find room to increase nutrition spending because of food price increases, as well as tax credits. But the House had been trying to hold the line on increased spending and the President has been adamant he will agree to no increases. Additionally, the President has said he wants to see payment and subsidy reform in this bill.

Proposals to free up some money have even included some very small cuts in direct payment subsidies, something not on the table before, and possible cutbacks in the ethanol tax credit, according to, the popular Washington political website.

Meanwhile, the conferees have worked through some titles of the bill that do not require new spending, in order to show some progress to the President. But a "few" billion dollars in spending out of a $300 billion bill have confounded conferees for weeks.

Even the committee staff is wondering if the bill will survive. As one observer noted, it will take two weeks to just handle all the writing, editing and preparation to get the text of a bill ready for a House and Senate vote.

But the complexities of spending cuts, credits, additions, extensions and provision expirations over one or five or ten years would fry one of NASA's supercomputers, it would appear to us. Only in Washington would otherwise reasonable people even pretend to consider such a monstrosity manageable. A "Farm" bill that is mostly nutrition programs, a five- year life span for a business that changes much faster than the horse-and-buggy days the five-year idea was designed to handle and micromanagement of the operations of two million farmers scattered over 50 states beggars belief.

The real miracle is that under such interference, ham-handed "help" and uncertainty, U.S. agriculture has continued to push productivity, quality and safety to levels undreamed of a couple decades ago. But when agriculture faces forward, to the challenges of cost, environmental and food safety considerations, legal and legislative challenges and worldwide demand for food, it must ask Congress to either get its act together or pull back and get out of the way. The demands of international competition and consumer wants have long ago outstripped the present Washington system.

The many thousands of decisions that need to be made every day are much better handled by businessmen throughout the food production chain under free market systems than Congressmen can ever manage. It's time to give the direction of the food production chain back to producers, processors, retailers and food service operators - who answer to consumers every day.

No better demonstration of the tremendous ripple effect of things done in Washington with good intentions but not thoroughly examined for implications and unintended consequences should be necessary than the ethanol example. Unfortunately, another example is biting everyone right now. The horrible mismanagement of the nation's energy supply by gagging and binding the oil industry and then expecting it to keep up with world demand for fuel is another painful demonstration.

Our Founding Fathers, with their visceral fear of a strong national government interfering in everyone's lives, would be horrified at the fix we've gotten ourselves into. Surely we can do better.

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Last Updated ( Monday, 05 May 2008 )
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