How I spent my Christmas holidays
By Larry Dreiling
Norm and Cliff, I'm heading to a bar for a drink--something stronger than non-fat chocolate milk after covering this mess. Want to join me? Cheers!
You know you are really no longer hip when you spend your New Year's Eve not on your couch making out with some pretty girl while ignoring the poor excuse of Dick Clark's stand-in or drinking champagne at a raucous bacchanal but home alone watching, no, not Scarface for the 28th time or a bad bowl game, but the human drama of C-SPAN to see if the Senate passes an extension to the farm bill as an addendum to fiscal cliff legislation.
Watching the train wreck of Kathy Griffin taunting Anderson Cooper would likely have been less torturous.
Happy Stinking New Year!
Of the many things Congress has done wrong, they did one thing right. They avoided the cliffs of higher taxes for working class folks and higher retail dairy prices without real return for farmers.
Everything else Congress did while most of America was celebrating the holiday was pretty bad. They added $4 trillion to the national debt, for instance.
However, they managed to keep the country from going into a double-dip recession, with a resulting plunge in the stock market and sovereign debt rating. Congratulations.
In the meantime, Congress further kicked several more cans down the road.
The most important can kicked--like a shanked football--was the farm bill.
In essence, there really is no farm bill. The years of hard work, the millions of dollars spent by the House and Senate agriculture committees, went down the loo like milk after a whole herd buyout.
Instead, the carefully crafted bill passed by the Senate last summer--a bill this page heartily endorsed--along with its well-meaning, though less effective House counterpart, carry about the same similarity with any love note I've passed on to any girl I ever had the hots for. The copies are in a box somewhere or on my computer hard drive, I guess, but it's hard telling if anyone will ever look at them again.
Let's take a look at the winners and losers in this:
President Obama tops the list. He beat the Republicans, but at what cost? He'll have to come back within the next two months with some real plan to give a shave and a haircut to the debt pile we've amassed, otherwise we'll be forced into the sequester, or spending cuts mandated by that bad old fiscal cliff bill. That means he has to have the guts to call for cuts to Medicare with at least a graduated increase in the eligibility age.
Joe Biden: With Hillary Clinton out of the media eye because of her illness, the vice president upped his stature as a viable candidate for dare I say it already--2016.
The 85 House Republicans who voted in favor of compromise: House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas of Oklahoma was joined by members like Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska, Kristi Noem of South Dakota and Mac Thornberry of Texas. There will be those croakers out there who will say they joined Speaker John Boehner in a cave-in to Obama. Nope. They compromised to get something accomplished, even if it doesn't go all the way toward ending the debt.
Mitch McConnell: His potential 2014 opponents now can't say he's a complete obstructionist. It may enough to keep Ashley Judd on the sidelines rooting for her racecar driver husband or the Kentucky Wildcat Ones-And-Dones.
John Boehner: He keeps his job as speaker.
Most of the 151 Republicans who voted against the compromise: They look like obstructionists. Principle is one thing, but like we've said previously, drawing a line so deep in the sand that you fall in and can't crawl out doesn't cut it.
Marco Rubio and Rand Paul: Their votes against the compromise in the Senate may look great to the base toward the run-up to 2016 presidential primaries, but they've removed themselves already from consideration in the general election.
The Biggest Losers:
All of us if we don't get a farm bill passed toot sweet. For once in a great while, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is right: We in rural America are becoming irrelevant as we've gerrymandered ourselves into a small, less diverse, voting bloc. City folks have no desire to spend money on our farm-to-market roads, care not if we have no grocery stores to anchor our Main Street businesses, access to good health care or even a decent place for our volunteer firefighters to store their trucks. The farm bill ensures so much of those things and more.
Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Pat Roberts of Kansas has agreed to the southern-led desire for direct payments on peanuts and rice production, so there's been more compromise on top of the compromises already agreed to. Split in half the approximately $10 billion difference in nutrition support cuts that separate the House and Senate bills then get this bill to the president.
OK, so it won't be easy. Let's have that low-fat chocolate milk then get to work.
Heck, make it a double.
Larry Dreiling can be reached by phone at 785-628-1117, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.