Congress delays farm bill as drought spreads

by
July 23, 2012
By DAVID ROGERS | Politico

To understand how far this Congress will go to kick the proverbial can down the road, consider the farm bill — yes, the farm bill.

In the midst of a severe drought, the House Republican leaders are proposing to walk away from farm states and decades of precedent by not calling up the new five-year plan before the current law expires Sept. 30.

Whatever its flaws, the bill promises $35 billion in 10-year savings from exactly the type of mandatory spending that Congress promised to tackle in last summer’s debt accord. But rather than disrupt its political messaging, the GOP would put it all at risk by delaying action until after the November elections.

There’s little institutional memory left in the Capitol — or perspective on the accumulation of cans rolling down the road these days. But the farm bill delay is new ground for any Congress.

Never before in modern times has a farm bill reported from the House Agriculture Committee been so blocked. POLITICO looked back at 50 years of farm bills and found nothing like this. There have been long debates, often torturous negotiations with the Senate and a famous meltdown in 1995 when the House Agriculture Committee couldn’t produce a bill. But no House farm bill, once out of committee, has been kept off the floor while its deadline passes.

If pushed into November’s lame-duck session, farmers will join Medicare physicians whose pay will be running out, idled workers worried about jobless benefits, and very likely, millions of families faced with expiring tax breaks.

For all the backslapping over the recent transportation bill, that measure expires in just 15 months. The Democratic Senate no longer even tries to do 12-month appropriations bills. Already in mid-July — when the floor used to be humming — the “smart money” is plotting a stop-gap continuing resolution to get to November or beyond.

Such a CR was once treated as a backstop by the Appropriations committees. Now the practice is so prevalent in all areas of government that the letters might stand for “Congress Retreats.”

“It’s to the point where you almost think you should vote against extensions because they are extensions,” Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) told POLITICO. “If you were looking at the United States from outside, you look and you say, ‘What are these people? Fools?’”

Elections do matter, and there’s some logic to letting the voters reshuffle the deck before tackling tough issues. But that’s not what’s happening here.

To read more, visit: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0712/78832.html#ixzz21RNEOSfa

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