May 22, 2024

High hurdles still ahead for farm bill

Farm & Food File

Even before Congress returns from its five-week, no-work period to its usual three-day weeks of little work, Republicans in both chambers are already signaling global markets, the White House and congressional colleagues that their return will bring no 2023 farm bill and no 2024 federal budget by the two laws’ drop-dead date, Sept. 30.

It’s not news that both efforts were bumping against hard deadlines. It is news, though, that any attempt at either has been preemptively rejected six solid weeks before both expire.

In short, this Congress isn’t saying it might not do its job on time; it’s saying it won’t do its job at all.

To be fair, it’s not both chambers. Senate budget boss Patty Murray, the Washington Democrat, pushed all 12 spending bills through her Appropriations Committee by July 27. The House, on the other hand, approved just one.

Worse — if it’s possible to have a “worse” at this late date — neither chamber has a draft farm bill before their respective Ag Committee, let alone a committee-approved one anywhere.

With those high hurdles still ahead, an even higher hurdle — an approved joint Senate-House version of the bill — lays somewhere in the distant mist.

The mist grew thicker Aug. 21 when the fractious, deeply divided House Freedom Caucus announced that “its members will not support a stopgap funding bill to keep the government running past the end of next month,” reported the Washington Post, “unless several conservative policy priorities … are attached.”

Some of those “policy priorities” aren’t so much conservative as they are burn-the-barn-down revolutionary. Defund the “weaponized” Department of Justice and reform the “woke” Pentagon are two of the big changes sought by the Freedom flamethrowers.

While neither is remotely doable, say observers, both are gear-grinding monkey wrenches that the 36-or-so-member caucus will use to make September’s must-pass legislative effort a 24/7, month-long nightmare for Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

That’s a self-inflicted disaster, however, because McCarthy gave the revolutionaries an unlimited supply of monkey wrenches when he traded key House committee seats for member votes in his ugly intraparty fight for the Speaker’s post.

That deal continues to cost McCarthy dearly. With a wafer-thin, five-vote majority, his legislative successes — and, since January, mostly failures — swing on keeping almost every House Republican in line, a difficult task in good times.

With 36 Freedom Caucus members acting as independent contractors for a puritanical political hit squad, though, it’s downright impossible.

The ag side of the House is just as tied up by the GOP’s monkey wrenchers as the budget side. In early June House Ag Chair Glenn Thompson, a Pennsylvania Republican, let it be known that he would have no trouble if the House voted “to strip the Inflation Reduction Act’s spending for climate-friendly agriculture practices” from any new farm bill.

But, Thompson noted, his plan would only apply to “the dollars (that) have been authorized, but the checks haven’t been written yet.”

That brief whiff of budgetary blood was sniffed out by the Freedom Caucus almost immediately and they began to bay for repeal of the entire $19.5-billion IRA.

“A lot of the IRA green energy stuff that we sought to repeal (earlier),” that non-farm, non-ranch and non-environmental standard-bearer Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Freedom Caucus member, told the Washington Post, “probably wouldn’t be spared” in any new farm bill.

What might be spared, however, is a GOP plan to use the farm bill to overrule 15 states that have instituted local “public health, food safety and humane standards for the in-state production and sale of products from egg-laying chickens, veal calves and mother pigs.”

The effort, coming mostly from Senate Republicans, is a reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court’s May decision that allowed California’s “humane” pork law to stand.

The GOP sponsors say the ruling allows “liberal” states to undermine the much-needed, industrial model of food production.

Baloney, say small farm advocates and more than 90 House members; the GOP effort is anti-family, anti-farmer and anti-local control.

All, you’d think, that anyone or any group that truly believes in “freedom” would oppose.

Alan Guebert

Alan Guebert

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