Ag Policy Blog

A 2013 Farm Bill is a Nice Christmas Gift

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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Dear House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor,

I just want to share the gratitude of those of us in the agricultural policy community for the wonderful re-gifting you have bestowed on all of us this holiday season. To think that we will get the opportunity to continue discussing the 2013 farm bill is certainly a joy that many of us will cherish, even if it looks like we got this same gift last year.

Your contributions in these endeavors, though outwardly appearing as effortless, will not go unnoticed.

Just consider the spotlight you will cast on federal milk policies early in the new year when it dawns on the average American consumer that the price has doubled for a gallon of milk or a pint of yogurt. Unrestrained by logical policy and yet chained by archaic decisions from the post-World War II era, dairy processors may even discover that consumers are still willing to pay exorbitant prices. The industry can begin to establish a much higher overall price floor for all of its products, even if some consumers on the lower rungs of society may be priced out of milk on occasion. If proven successful, such a new dynamic in the dairy industry could translate into doubling the costs paid by federal government buyers for dairy products such as the military, school lunches, the Veterans Administration, WIC, etc. You may have accidentally raised the federal expenses for years to come, but such is the price for ideological decisions meant to demonstrate short-term fiscal restraint.

More blessings will come from the CBO scores. Oh, the stories we shall write after this 2012 crop season. How much did the costs go up for crop insurance? Sweet sassy molassy that seems high. Did that add another zero somewhere?

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It also goes without saying that you have continued to offer false hope to groups seeking to make radical overhauls to farm policy by demanding greater reforms than those crafted in the Senate farm bill. A $50,000 cap on commodity payments? Surely you jest! Demanding greater protections against soil erosion for being eligible for crop insurance? What a novel concept! Perhaps a wayward House member, uneducated about the function of farm politics, will attempt to discuss such matters on the House floor. Oh, I know the agricultural community will be pleased.

Moreover, you have raised the outlook for the event-hosting industry in Washington as groups seek to book their 2013 press-conference opportunities to denounce potential nutrition cuts or point fingers at the crop-insurance industry.

While there is a whimsical thought that we can just reset the calendar on the old versions of the new farm bill for 2013, such views are misguided. We now have a new set of subcommittee chairmen on the House Agriculture Committee who will want put their own stamp on this new piece of legislation. I can just see the new subcommittee chairman for oversight and nutrition holding countless hearings on school lunches. Congress will get to hold a debate over whether school-lunch standards are starving our children or whether we can continue to ensure that 25% of our kids remain too fat to join the military. I'm sure we will eventually side with the value of obesity because everyone gains with that policy choice. Scoring on Medicaid due to diabetes doesn't demand offsets in the agricultural budget.

Before I sign off, I want to offer a special thank you to Majority Leader Cantor for the "pause button." It was a joy, sir, to see how you masterfully used this ingenious legislative creation throughout 2012. Contrary to the perspective of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, you aptly demonstrated the political relevancy of rural America by pressing the pause button on a bi-partisan farm bill that cleared one of your own committees and offered $35 billion or so in savings. Thus, you offered protection in the fall campaign to help the Republican presidential nominee secure the vote of rural America. It was largely effective except in swing states such as Iowa and Wisconsin. Then, in the lame duck, you were able to keep the finger on the pause button to ensure that the farm bill would not muck up the GOP voting block for the aptly-named Plan B. Well played, sir! Well played!

I do hope the pause button continues to remain by your side in 2013 as well. Use it wisely.

Merry Christmas to both of you for your work on the farm bill, the unresolved gift that keeps on giving.

Everybody have a Merry Christmas!

Follow me on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

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