Work it out
By Seymour Klierly
2013 was supposed to be the year of achievements in Washington, D.C. A year ago, expectations were high that Republicans would relent to the fact that President Barack Obama won reelection with relative ease and Democrats decide that the House of Representatives also received a mandate from their districts. Instead, the 113th Congress has fallen flat and partisanship gridlock has reached new heights.
There were also hopes that the bipartisan farm bill would break the log jam and be the first area in which members from across the country could and would work together against the odds. Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, D-MI, and House Chair Frank Lucas, R-OK, have weathered the storms and pushed the legislation all the way to a formal conference committee.
The two chairs have gone through the motions of publicly conferencing the legislation while ultimately shaping the true form of the final bill behind closed doors. While ranking members Rep. Colin Peterson, D-MN, and Sen. Thad Cochran, R-MS, are in the room with legislative priorities, the wrestling matches over policy have been between the two chairs and their respective caucuses.
As the final agreement among the four principals seems closer, this dynamic can be clearly seen. Lucas has spent months defending the House commodity title and new counter cyclical program and he has seemingly won on most accords. The exception is that the new program will be based on historical acreage instead of planted acres. Peterson indicated on a radio call that “They are going to use base acres to do these programs, on the commodity title. I don’t agree with it—but I said, go ahead and do whatever you have got to do because we have to get this thing done.”
On the other side of the coin, Stabenow seems to have held the line on cuts to nutrition. As reported in Roll Call, “For Democrats especially, any talk about cutting billions from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is uncomfortable and certain to create internal strife. But negotiators on the farm bill believe they’ve found a way to make about $8 billion in savings from the program palatable for most Democrats.” That would be far less than the House of Representatives’ goal of saving nearly $40 billion from food stamps. The House voted down a version of the farm bill earlier this year when conservatives and Democrats revolted on the level of cuts at $20 billion.
If the chairs of the budget committees Paul Ryan, R-OH, and Patty Murray, D-WA, are able to come to an agreement on the federal budget involving sequestration, than a farm bill should also be achievable in this environment. After they have done their work across the halls of the Capitol, the worry in both situations becomes whether or not the legislation can pass and sign into law. At a minimum, putting the legislation up for a vote is a step forward and lets voters back home see their politician’s stance recorded.
Editor’s note: Seymour Klierly writes Washington Whispers for the Journal from inside the Beltway.