Ag Policy Blog

Farm Bill Now a Pawn in Debt-Ceiling Talks

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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I could have spent this week in Washington seeking commentary from lawmakers and others about the latest delays on the farm bill, but I opted to tour western Kansas for some articles instead. This is a tradeoff that has to be made sometimes. Right now, however, staying away from Capitol Hill is the better play because nothing is moving on farm policy in D.C. anyway.

Last year, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., hit the "pause button" to delay the farm bill because he and others were convinced that not passing the legislation would help in the presidential election. That play didn't work out so well, but it did end up whittling away some minor programs from the 2008 law that didn't get extended.

Now, Cantor has been instrumental this month in dividing the farm bill, stalling the naming of conferees and taking an active role in finding some sort of nutrition sweet spot for his caucus to "eventually" come to terms on cuts to programs such as food stamps. In the process, he's completely undermined more than two years of work by one of his own chairmen, Agriculture Committee Chair Frank Lucas of Oklahoma.

If I had been in D.C., I could have accumulated some trite comments about all the progress being made on GOP-only talks about cuts to nutrition programs that could be offered, but not until sometime after Labor Day. Congress will complete July without taking further action on the farm bill and spend August explaining to constituents why someone else is to blame.

Instead of dealing with such delays, or quoting deep-thinking lawmakers who have no committee assignments, I got to spend time this week looking at the effects of drought in western Kansas, talking about the long-term health of the Ogallala Aquifer and touring the construction site for a new cellulosic ethanol facility.

I don't have to be in D.C. covering the blow-by-blow action on the farm bill. At this point, it doesn't take a genius to look at the crystal ball, read the tea leaves, or smell the scent that is stronger than the winds coming off a Kansas feedlot on a hot July afternoon. It turns out, I'm becoming far more allergic to the B.S. around the Capitol than around some of those feedlots. Claritin can't help me.

The political newspapers in Washington provide some of the scent in the air on the lack of effort in completing a farm bill. David Rogers, a reporter for Politico who I'm convinced has a secret apartment somewhere in the Capitol, quoted Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, on Thursday about her own talks with Cantor. Fudge chairs the Congressional Black Caucus and is a member of the Ag Committee. "He doesn’t want a bill," Fudge told Rogers. "Just in terms of our discussion, it was clear to me, it was my sense that he really doesn't want a bill."

Cantor, on the House floor, later insisted that he and others were working "forging a consensus" for those nutrition programs. But Cantor always likes to think he's got his chess moves mapped out a few more moves ahead of everyone else. That's why the farm bill isn't going anywhere right now. It's being held back like a pawn needed for a blocking move.

Right now, everyone knows the White House and Senate Democrats aren't going to accept the level of cuts the House GOP wants for nutrition programs. Thus, there is no point trying to advance a bill if House leaders want to go beyond the $20.5 billion in cuts to food stamps, not negotiate down from that level.

Factoring into all of this is the debt ceiling. This fall the House GOP and the White House will have yet another clash over the debt ceiling. House Speaker John Boehner has insisted that battle must result in some significant budget savings somewhere or there will be no agreement on raising the ceiling. There are a variety of suggestions being tossed out there for potential cuts. Boehner has suggest a dollar-for-dollar cut-to-debt ratio will be needed to satisfy demands of the House GOP caucus.

So while Cantor talks about consensus, what he really is forging is leverage. Nutrition programs, and the final conference talks on the farm bill, are going to be held hostage this fall for the debt-ceiling debate. Only in the 11th hour, when it looks like those debt-ceiling talks are moving to the brink of another government shutdown, will Cantor decide it's time to advance his pawn. Official conference talks on the farm bill won't happen until the latest debt-ceiling deal determines just what the dollar figure is going to be on nutrition spending.

Politico: The Cantor-Boehner Farm Bill Two-Step…

I can be found on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN


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W Lee Deutsche
7/29/2013 | 11:38 AM CDT
Why must agriculture help with the debt ceiling and organized labor is a huge cause? I'm so annoyed about the "battle cry"for jobs,jobs,jobs,jobs at the expense of farmers.
Bonnie Dukowitz
7/28/2013 | 9:07 PM CDT
A debt ceiling is meaningless when the sky is the limit.