Bumping Around the Farm Bill

As far as the political process of the farm bill goes, the big news is that Collin Peterson may allow the various “reform” farm bills to be offered as amendments when the House Agriculture Committee considers the farm bill next week. Needless to say, they will promptly and emphatically be voted down- and that's the point. Chris Clayton of DTN provides the political insight behind these shenanigans:

What it does, though, for the committee, is give it cover for the full 435 House members. Bringing up the bills reduces attempts at a floor fight. While it's unlikely much of the committee will stand up and seek to back any of these major changes, once the committee talks about these efforts and dismisses them, then it makes it much harder for these reforms to gain momentum on the House floor. Peterson will be able to say these issues were talked about in committee and voted down. One long-standing observer of House politics said other congressmen without a serious dog in this fight would not want to cross what a committee has done because they wouldn't want someone else to do that to their own committee's work or decisions.

I have previously discussed the whole floor strategy and its political implications, and this could throw a real monkey wrench into the gears of the reformers who are aiming to do their work on the House floor. After mulling it over for a couple of days, I still can’t decide how this is going to affect the whole process (and there have been some heated discussions here in the home office, let me tell you), so I’ll have to post later this week. At a bare minimum, this is the sort of political machinations we intensely dislike.

Last Thursday, Collin Peterson’s commodity title proposal was posted on the House Agriculture Committee’s farm bill website. Not surprisingly, it did not include effective payment limits. To give credit where credit is due, it did include one of the steps necessary for payment limits- direct attribution of payments, so farm program dollars can be tracked back through all manner of shady setups to the individual who actually receives the benefit. Obviously, you can’t limit a payment to an individual when you don’t even know who that individual is, so this is a good thing. (Official Center for Rural Affairs Statement)

It did not include, however, any language to close other loopholes in existing payment limits.   Most certainly, Peterson's proposal did not end the unlimited checks you can receive using commodity certificates, the glaring loophole Maurice Wilder (aka The King) exploits to receive his millions of subsidy dollars.

But wait! Peterson is now saying he might support payment limitations:

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said June 8 that he plans to impose stricter payment limitations on farm program conservation payments as well as crop subsidies in the 2007 farm bill.

In his weekly telephone news conference with reporters, Peterson noted that he is not a fan of payment limitations in general, but said that the House Agriculture Committee must include a payment limit plan in the bill it will mark up the last week of June or face noncommittee members offering an even stricter plan on the House floor.

Not much of an endorsement right there. But even that tepid level of enthusiasm doesn't translate into an actual proposal for payment limits in Peterson's own commodity title draft. The cynical among us might think that Peterson doesn’t want to show his hand- he knows he’ll have to do something, but he’ll wait until the last minute to go public with his payment limits proposal. The even more cynical among us might think that Peterson's eventual proposal will be as weak as possible- while still being politically palatable to the majority of the House.


For those interested, here's an update on timing:

Tuesday, the Commodity Subcommittee will do its work, and it is not expected that much in the way of controversy will result (though I could be wrong on that count). The real fireworks should start June 26th, when the full House Agriculture Committee begins considering the 2007 Farm Bill. On the Senate side, Chairman Tom Harkin is still saying he would like to have his proposed farm bill draft (the Chairman’s “mark”) out by the end of June. If a farm bill comes out of the House Committee next week and Harkin's mark is also released on time, we will have a very good idea of the fights that will occur on the floor and in conference committee.


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