Passing a farm bill this month was going to be a squeeze even before the Syria vote came up. In the nine legislative days between September 9 (when legislators return from August recess) and September 30 (when current law expires) Congress has a full plate of tax and spending issues to masticate. Now it must also vote on whether to bomb Syria.
Was President Obama constitutionally required to refer the decision to Congress? Whatever the legalities, the referral probably made sense to him politically. Politicians from both parties were demanding it, the public was restive, so why not let Congress shoulder part of the responsibility?
Too bad the president didn't do it sooner, before all of the tough talk about red lines being crossed and not letting Assad get away with using chemical weapons. Now a Congressional no vote risks making the U.S. look like a paper tiger, quivering in fear at the possibility of terrorist retaliation.
The Senate is going ahead with hearings on Syria this week even though it doesn't formally convene until next. No word yet, though, on the House's plans, and with its Republican majority the House is likely to be more of a problem for the president on Syria.
The House is also the farm bill's problem. It has yet to grapple with food stamps, having deleted food programs from its version of the farm bill. Its ability to resolve its internal differences on food stamps is unclear. Even less clear is whether the House's majority Republicans would vote for any compromise a House-Senate conference committee devised.
Meanwhile, talks between the White House and Republican legislators on a budget for the fiscal year beginning October 1st have broken down and a vote on raising the federal government's debt ceiling looms. And now there's Syria to debate, too.
Good luck getting a farm bill passed.
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