The glass is half full

The 113th Congress offers challenges as well as reasons for hope.


Despite two years of political tumult and policy uncertainty in Washington, D.C., there are reasons to be hopeful.

An under-budget U.S. farm policy has fostered an unprecedented decade of growth while leading the way in exports, job creation and deficit reduction. Counterproductive environmental legislation and regulation was forestalled. Tax law is no longer temporary, with most of the Bush tax relief made permanent.

And Washington recognized that it has a debt and deficit problem, even if it has not yet begun to fully deal with it.

Congressional Inertia

Some people despair over the failure to pass a five-year Farm Bill last year and blame a divisive Senate Farm Bill, disagreement over the commodity title, higher crop prices, diminished clout, libertarian and left-wing extremes and inadequate resolve on the part of the White House and Congress. While these may have contributed to an extension of the 2008 Farm Bill rather than a five-year reauthorization, the real culprit might be inertia.

Consider that of the 241 bills enacted into law in the 112th Congress, only eight were something more than an extension of current law or a commemoration or post office naming. The Farm Bill was not singled- out for neglect. It encountered the same apathy as everything else. That’s no reason to celebrate, but neither is it cause for caterwauling.

Budget Realities

More sobering is Washington’s inability to address fiscal issues. Of the $4 trillion in deficit reduction believed necessary, only about $2.75 trillion has been achieved, and it’s still $1.25 trillion short. Yet, Republicans indicate that January’s tax hike constitutes the full breath of revenue increases, and Democrats are adamant that cuts to major entitlements are off the table. That makes it difficult, if not impossible, to reach the $4 trillion savings mark.

Washington’s next set of 11th-hour opportunities to deal with the deficit and debt comes in March and May when automatic budget cuts kick in under sequestration, the current Continuing Resolution that keeps the government running expires, and the debt ceiling must be raised again.

The resolution to each issue poses challenges and opportunities for farm policy. Given the heavy lifting yet to be done on fiscal issues, it may be a blessing in disguise that a five-year Farm Bill was not completed in January if it would have been re-opened within months for more cuts.

Moving Forward

Whatever unfolds, there are four things the farm community must do:

First, unite to complete a five-year Farm Bill and prevent the successful picking-off of one farm policy after another. To deny that this is the strategy of adversaries is to ignore the facts.

Second, insist upon and work for a Farm Bill with a robust commodity title, not a weakling policy that would neither work in periods of depressed prices nor in times of record drought.

Third, reject the Trojan Horse offered up by opponents of agriculture who want to lure the farm community into crafting a commodity title that attempts to only duplicate what crop insurance is designed to do in order to bring both tumbling down. Fourth, understand the new environment in Washington and assess the adequacy of old plans for survival. An effective vote count for a Farm Bill is a good place to start in gauging support and thinking on Capitol Hill.

There is certainly no shortage of challenges in the 113th Congress but always reasons for hope.

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