A Little of This, A Little of That

After our recent rant on the interstate shipment of state-inspected meat, we find yet another reason to embrace state inspections. State inspectors- not the USDA- discovered the tainted meat behind the two latest meat recalls. How about that. Some nice reporting by Chris Clayton over at the DTN Ag Policy Blog.

Last week the Wall Street Journal tapped into the feeling of discontent surrounding the Senate farm bill process- and identified the lack of strong leadership involvement as part of the problem. Most interestingly, it notes Majority Leader Harry Reid will face pressure to intervene if progress isn’t made. And of course, that intervention needs to be in favor of real reform, not some phony baloney junk like the House farm bill. So Reid needs to hear from concerned citizens, and who has a handy-dandy form ready for you to make your voice heard? We do! Visit this link and tell Senator Reid to do the right thing.

Anyway, I don’t think the whole article is available on the web, so here’s some longer excerpts:

WASHINGTON -- A stalled farm-bill debate in Congress exposes a gap in the Democratic leadership: there is no single strongman to force deals upon three Senate committee chairmen who all want a hand in agriculture policy.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle played that role in the last big farm bill five years ago, and even Republicans, who helped bring down the South Dakota Democrat in 2004, now miss him. "When Daschle walked in, it was like Gen. Patton. Everything sort of came together," says Rep. Frank Lucas (R., Okla.). "There's no Gen. Patton this time."

There's no Senate farm bill either. Two months after the House passed its version, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D., Iowa) was forced to again postpone action yesterday for lack of a consensus among Democrats….

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), who served under Mr. Daschle but has little of his background in agriculture, will face pressure to intercede if the delays persist. Already his hands-off approach contrasts with that of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), who steeped herself in the details of the House bill, brokering deals and directing tax writers to provide added revenue to keep her rural-urban coalition together…

Mr. Harkin's problem then is he begins with less available money than the House. Rather than digging himself out of this hole, he has antagonized colleagues by insisting that the Senate add about $1.4 billion more than the House for conservation and rural-development programs.

Mr. Conrad has walked him back from what appeared to be politically unrealistic cuts from commodity programs. But differences remain, and the Senate is historically an arena where populist Midwest demands for strict subsidy limits run into cotton and rice interests allied with Southern Democrats and Republicans.

Well, we certainly hope that Harry Reid doesn’t take the route of Nancy Pelosi- embracing fake reform in a misguided and uniformed effort to hold Democrats together and gain rural votes. I think that’s what keeping “the rural-urban coalition together” means. I would call it buying votes, but no matter. If you’ve got the time (and we know you do), go write him a letter and tell him how you feel.

And now on to the Finance Committee. They came up with the dough (pdf)- with, we must say, remarkably little resistance. We have to be impressed with the political maneuvering. For example, the Finance bill takes 5 cents from the ethanol tax incentive (which saves money) but pacifies ethanol supporters by extending the 54 cent tariff on imported ethanol until 2011, which is a top priority of the pro-ethanol crowd. Extending the tariff, by the way, doesn’t cost a dime. So the Finance Committee ends up with cash to spend on the farm bill. Brilliant (politically).

Not only that, but they ditched the idea of taxing temporary workers and went with the totally obscure idea of clarifying the “economic substance doctrine”, and then imposing a big old penalty on those who violate said doctrine. We looked into the economic substance doctrine and immediately started drooling on the keyboard out of sheer boredom. We think we understand it, but we won’t go into it here because we like the people who read this blog.

Suffice it to say, they raised $10 billion for the Farm Bill through a mechanism they can safely call “cracking down on tax cheaters”. It remains to be seen what kind of opposition the provision will face on the floor, but it was probably the best they could do politically. It should be noted that the revenue-raising "economic substance" provision of the bill faced a closer vote (13-8) than the full bill itself (17-4). Which means that Chairman Baucus allowed a symbolic vote so some Republicans could put their opposition on record. For a more in-depth overview of the Finance package, read the Reuters article here.

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