Pleased to Meet You

Currently we're at the point where all of the Senators are doing their introductory statement, which is always a time that you can snooze through. Every single Senator has to go and thank Chairman Harkin and every other Senator for all of their hard work. Senators who have not been heard from during the entire farm bill process feel the needs to drone on about how hard they've worked and how much they care.

Been Around for a Long, Long Year

After more than a year, we've finally- finally- reached the point of Senate Agriculture Committee Farm Bill markup. Rumor has it they will finish the farm bill in less than a day- maybe even less than 5 hours. So we’re not expecting much in the way of fireworks. It appears that all of the controversial issues have either been resolved or pushed off until floor consideration.

It’s Not Too Late

Last week the Senate Agriculture Committee announced that negotiations over the 2007 farm bill had produced an agreement between Senator Harkin (D-IA), the committee chairman, Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) and ranking member Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) over many of the most hotly debated issues in the farm bill debate.

The Sun'll Come Out... Maybe Wednesday.

Friday, we discussed how the machinations of Sen. Kent Conrad are making fundamental farm program reform more difficult to achieve. But we should emphasize that reform is not an impossible goal; in fact, we think it is quite likely that the Dorgan-Grassley payment limits proposal will be included in the final version of the Senate farm bill.

The Nature of Conrad's Game

Thankfully for me, I was out of the office Wednesday. As Brian Depew helpfully chronicled, new stuff has come to light, and now I get to weigh in with my thoughts. And let me tell you, I did not spend the past 14 months fighting for payment limits only to sit silent while certain elected officials undermine strong, effective payment limits. And that is exactly what is happening.

For all the political junkies, I explain in more detail the politics of the situation below the fold.

If they weren’t so disheartening, the media accounts would almost be comical. We have Chairman Harkin talking about the “key committee members” he’s been working with:

Harkin identified the “key committee members” as Sens. Saxby Chambliss, the committee’s ranking member and a Georgia Republican, and Kent Conrad, a senior Democrat on the agriculture committee.

Uh, right. And by “key committee members”, Harkin means “those committee members that worked to defeat my farm bill proposals for months”. And to a large extent, apparently succeeded.

And Kent Conrad mentions one of the real sticking points:

“The Senate Agriculture Committee farm-bill proposal released Wednesday would cap adjusted gross income at $750,000 for ‘non-farmers’ collecting payments, but senators are still negotiating an appropriate cap for farmers, a key senator said.

“Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said the committee bill would contain a payment-limitations provision that would lower the income cap for non-farmers who receive payments to $750,000; the income cap for farmers would be lowered from $2.5 million, though the amount is still under negotiation.”

You have got to be kidding me. THIS is a big point of contention? A weak, worthless income limit? For millionaires? I’m supposed to care about THIS? Moreover, the House pegged their sad-excuse-for-reform income limit for non-farmers at $500,000, and the Senate can’t even match that. Pitiful. Do these people in DC just not have anything worthwhile to discuss?

The real story here? The unholy alliance between Southerners and Northerners survives, unscathed by calls for reform. The fight over payment limits- and many other issues, like livestock competition measures- has never really been about the Southerners. Sure, they’re the vocal opposition. But Southerners don’t hold the chair of either Ag Committee.

They don’t have the majority of votes on the committees, either. But certain Northern Senators, like Kent Conrad, will bow to the will of the Saxby Chamblisses of the world in order to get a few more dollars for farm programs, with no regard for how that money is spent. It’s all about the dollar figure for them- the higher, the better. Put simply, it is all about the greed.

As my colleague John Crabtree pointed out recently, “Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota, thinks it is better for his state to work with Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia, to defeat the ideas of Tom Harkin, the chair of the committee from Iowa and a member of his own party. Iowa is practically neighbors with North Dakota, for God’s sake. What the hell is wrong with him?”

Click "Read More" below for the full post. 


Get The Newsletter?