(Promoted by Colorado Pols)
The ink hadn't yet dried on the House-passed version of the 2013 FAARM [Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act] Act of 2013 before the guile began:
“I applaud the passage of the farm bill in the House today. It is an important piece of legislation that provides certainty for America’s farmers while modernizing and streamlining our agricultural policy."
~Congressman Cory Gardner
Well, if by "certainty, modernizing and streamlining" you mean "devoid of structural changes that have broad bipartisan support in both chambers, no form of means testing and converting subsidies scheduled to sunset in 2013 into permanent law, all at a cost that is $25 billion higher than the President requested in his budget, and $18 billion more than your own party's "Path to Prosperity" budget resolution, you nailed it.
In the words of Inigo Montoya, "You keep using that word. I don't think it means what you think it means."
It didn't take long for heads to start exploding at The Weekly Standard:
"Republican leaders will claim that this bill takes a small step in the direction of reform, since large steps aren’t possible. But that simply isn’t true. Reform would have meant limiting crop insurance subsidies, particularly for rich farmers, and not adding expensive new entitlements like “shallow loss.” Then the House could have pursued a food stamp bill with a similar eye to reforms to trim costs while preserving the safety net.
Chris Chocola, President of the free-market-oriented Club for Growth, which opposed the bill, had this to say:
"Republicans resent the caricature that they lavish support on the rich and care little for the poor. They need look no further than the latest farm bill vote to see why the label is so enduring."
And while this second vote was widely seen as a move to save face for Eric Cantor after last months failed vote to pass the House version and send it to conference committee, which Cantor attempted to pin on Minority Leader Pelosi, Republicans privately agree that vote was a direct result of lobbying efforts by the Club for Growth and The Heritage Foundation To wit:
Heritage Action CEO Mike Needham told CQ Roll Call there is “a disconnect” between the GOP leadership and the conservative voters they allegedly represent. He said his group is “dying to go into battle alongside leadership” but won’t cede ground on issues that matter to it. Leadership’s job is to get to 218, our job is to make it impossible for them to get to 218 unless they are doing the right thing.”
This divide on Capitol Hill between the Senate and the House, and further, between the two warring factions of the House, leave both agriculture and nutrition assistance recipients in unchartered territory. The likelihood of finding a resolve to the divides seems out-of-reach by the looming September 30 deadline. Without the inclusion of SNAP in the final bill, the White House has promised a veto. Including SNAP in a conference report likely guarantees its death in the final House vote. And it's unlikely the next House vote can be successful without Democratic votes. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla) warned Friday that no one should expect action anytime soon given fights among House Republicans over how much to cut food stamps.
Closer to home this begs the question on which side of the House divide Congressman Gardner will fall during these negotiations? Colorado's CD-4 is home to not only farmers and ranchers, but energy advocates and a growing population of working poor and their children who rely on nutrition assistance. There are enough children living in childhood poverty in the Congressman's district to fill his hometown of Yuma 31 times over.
I'd be lying if I said I haven't been deeply disappointed by my Congressman's performance in this Farm Bill fiasco. Circumstantial evidence points to his hand in adding Section 5206 to the final version of the bill – a provision that would allow Tri-State to circumvent a recent court ruling and build thier long-awaited coal plant in Holcomb, Kansas. I see no leadership from the Congressman regarding his defense of the current Renewable Fuels Standard – federal policy that is opening markets for rural communities like those in his Congressional district with waste resources. That said, his lack of leadership on nutrition assistance for his district and his agricultural community regarding the development of non-fossil fuel resources isn't an unsolvable puzzle: he has been the beneficiary of hundreds of thousands of dollars in direct and indirect funding by Koch, Inc. And those kinds of dollars buy the givers the votes they want. Damn the working poor in the district – Americans for Prosperity want you off government assistance. Damn the farming community – they expect their dollars to buy votes for offshore drilling in Alaska. Obviously, Alaskan oil has some nexus to eastern Colorado. Damn the many communities across your district that could benefit from robust federal energy standards that open the grid to competition and allow everyone to be an energy generator. Damn them, because the Koch-funded ALEC movements across the nation to repeal renewable energy standards are more important.
Without a conference committee resolve we'll revert to a continuing resolution – and take up this battle for another day. And while I will give credit where credit is due and thank the Congressman for his support of our industrial hemp research amendment that survived the floor vote and is slated for Conference – the fact that Congress has once-again failed to make any meaningful reform and address the contemporary needs of a 21st century agriculture a tragedy of epic proportions. Agriculture is less than 1% of the federal budget; in the big picture we are a rounding error. Our cheap food policy is a sword that cuts in both directions: we've subsidized the commodities that have lead to our national obesity epidemic – and we've ignored the foods that promote wellness. Since 1995, 4% of the nation's farmers have received over 74% of the subsidies. Over 60% of Americans farms and ranches receive no subsidies at all. This discussion should be less about the amount of money in the program and laser-focused on to whom it's allocated. Today, we pay Brazil $147mm annually so that we can continue to subsidize our American cotton producers – an industry that occupies 1% of US farmland yet accounts for 25% of all pesticide use and 12% of all insecticide use. The House ignores the role of USDA in building a next-generation of farmers by short-cutting funding that supports incredible advocate groups such as the Farm-Vet Coalition The Congressman seems to ignore the opportunities for communities like the 40+ small-attendance education centers across his district that could become energy producers, buoying both their school budgets and local governments. A win-win. But unfortunately, the House version of the Farm Bill strips all mandatory funding for rural renewable energy projects.
It's a sad indictment on our democracy – or perhaps our lack thereof. When we can't deal with the significant opportunities before us within a program that is less than 1% of the US budget, what chance do we have with our other looming challenges and opportunities? As a fifth-generation rural Coloradan who is proud of my heritage and my community – I wanted better for our district, my family and my grandchildren. We live in a world of endless opportunity – usurped only by the monied and privileged class of political elites that suffocate Capitol Hill. As quoted in last week's business section in the New York Times:
“Only an evil genius could have dreamed this up.”