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Fluid Situation in D.C. More Predictable; South Korea Deals With Discord PDF Print E-mail
Written by Steve Dittmer   
Thursday, 15 May 2008
AFF Sentinel Vol.5#23

The Farm Bill that we reported Friday as taking off with uncertain flight capabilities, stopped for repairs Monday and Tuesday but was passed by both houses of Congress and is headed for a likely presidential veto.

The feverish scramble on Capitol Hill, especially by human nutrition and food bank supporters, to gather enough votes in the House for passage and override margin was successful. The vote Wednesday was 318-106. The Senate's Thursday vote was 81-16.

Earlier in the week, sources said the Congressional Budget Office went through the numbers in the Conference Committee version of the bill and re-discovered what skeptical voters have known all along - Congressmen can't add and subtract. The conferees tried for months to get $10 billion in additional spending shoehorned into the Farm Bill without appearing to raise taxes. They announced success.

But apparently, meeting without staff present last week, the conferees got tangled up in their complicated budgetary wizardry and wound up $5 billion off. We've heard the discrepancy involved a ploy of "user fees" to generate more money without raising taxes. It's the old political trick of forcibly extracting money from the smallest group of constituents, with the intent of keeping the uproar to a manageable level. But somehow, through methodology kept under wraps, the discrepancy was quickly resolved.

President Bush issued a statement Tuesday again castigating Congress for proposing a bill without meaningful reform and with increased spending disguised in accounting gimmickry. He promised a veto and suggested Congress give it up after five years of struggling and pass a one-year extension of the 2002 law.

Congress' protracted struggle to deliver a Farm Bill has had international implications. While much of the damage Congress had contemplated perpetrating on the livestock industry has been extracted, the bill has remedial language needed to ease wounds of past legislative transgressions. The mCOOL language needed to make the process at least more bearable for the meat industry is in the bill. That includes a new grandfather date i.e. animals here from other countries by July 15 instead of January would be exempt from mCOOL provisions.

U.S. cattle feeders and hog finishing operations have been desperate to know where livestock in their facilities stand or what feeder animals they can buy with a Sept. 30 deadline looming. Canadian farrowing operations in particular, which yearly send millions of pigs to be finished in American operations, have been particularly stressed. Some American finishing operations have not renewed contracts or even canceled existing ones with Canadian suppliers. Without enough finishing capacity in Canada, there has been talk of euthanizing pigs.

On the world scene, there are international issues, thought resolved, that are fluid again.

"All politics is local," is something former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill said. We've been monitoring the political heat new South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has been taking from opposition politicians and thousands of student activists demonstrating in the streets over the U.S.-Korean beef agreement. The safety of U.S. beef has become the question seized upon by opposition political parties trying to derail the first major initiative of a new administration and students needing a cause. The hysteria has risen to the ridiculous, to absurd claims that Americans only eat Australian beef and export all domestic beef.

The new administration has been hanging tough, refusing calls for a renegotiation of the agreement (has the opposition attended the Clinton/Obama School of Trade Obstruction?) but have now announced delays in implementation.

The current South Korean parliamentary term expires in about ten days. While the beef agreement does not require parliamentary approval, the uproar over the beef deal has swamped the general U.S.- Korean Free Trade Agreement (FTA) discussions in parliament. President Lee had hoped to get FTA approved in the current parliamentary session, to put added pressure on the U.S. Congress to debate and approve the FTA.

Now to calm the hysteria in the country, Korean Agriculture Minister Chung Woon-chun has announced a week to ten-day delay in beginning procedures necessary for resuming beef trade. That probably delays the effort to pass the FTA until June when a new parliament is seated.

Our hope is South Korea's president does something else worthwhile the opposition doesn't like to draw protest attention elsewhere. Meanwhile, we can be sure efforts from our government and the U.S. Meat Export Federation will be quietly working to calm overwrought imaginations and counter activist rhetoric with scientific fact and reason.

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Last Updated ( Thursday, 03 July 2008 )
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