November 14, 2008
Whoever said elections don’t matter was either a royalist or a royal idiot. Of course elections matter.
For proof, ask Robin Hayes, Marilyn Musgrave, Randy Kuhl or Tim Walberg. All are Republican members of the House Ag Committee who, on Nov. 4, were fired by their constituents in, respectively, North Carolina, Colorado, New York and Michigan.
Walberg, a freshman, was an easy target. Hayes, however, as the five-term Ranking Member on the Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Subcommittee wasn’t. His and Musgrave’s downfalls were thin records and living in red states that Barack Obama painted blue.
The Dem side of the Committee took three hits Nov. 4. Nick Lampson of Texas, Kansan Nancy Boyda and Tim Mahoney, the Floridian who kept neither his word to voters nor his vows to his wife, lost re-election bids.
Overall, however, the Dems expanded their House majority by at least 18 seats. They now hold a 255-to-174 edge with six races still too close to call. That means their five seat majority on the current Ag Committee will grow by at least one, perhaps two, and make it as bulletproof as Superman in 2009.
That stronger majority carries two big sticks in the new Congress.
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First, while the 2007 Farm Bill finally was completed in mid-2008, the administrative rules to implement its many new programs have yet to be finalized. That’s the work of green eyeshade gang at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The yet-Republican USDA. Recall it watched as the White House vetoed the new law and, later, as Congress voted to implement it with a veto override.
But USDA, the White House-directed USDA, can still work the Administration’s will in the rulemaking process and, in fact, that’s exactly the path it is taking.
For example, on June 30, USDA published a notice that it would “not approve” farm program payments authorized under the 2008 Farm Bill to farms of less than 10 acres. That move forced the ag committees to act – again – and, in late September, both the Senate and the House unanimously passed a “correction” to reverse USDA’s open defiance of “Congress’s clearly stated intent.”
Similarly, Congress is riding shotgun as USDA decides on which crop marketing year (2006/07 or 2007/08) to use as the baseline for potential payments under the Farm Bill’s new Average Crop Revenue Election, or ACRE, program.
Ag Secretary Ed Schafer flashed his hand a while back when he said USDA would prefer the earlier year because its lower average annual prices would limit ACRE payouts in times of price collapse or production calamity.
The very idea of using the lower-price year to limit payouts in times of calamity is the direct opposite of what Congress intended when it included the optional ACRE program in the law.
The Secretary, however, after his 10-acre rebuke by Congress, smartly let the ACRE dog lie. Obama’s election has many in Congress hoping Schafer will leave the choice, and the rest of the Farm Bill rule-writing, to USDA’s new bosses, too.
The second consequence is the growing disdain of free trade.
In the 2006 elections, 37 “free” traders in Congress (seven senators, 30 House members) lost seats to “fair” traders. The switch killed White House hopes to extend fast track trade authority and kept four pending trade agreements languishing in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s coat pocket.
Which is where they’ll stay because Nov. 4 brought at least 30 more “fair” traders to the Senate and the House.
For the time being, though, all eyes, hands and hearts will try to put Humpty Dumpty, the economy, back together because, indeed, elections matter and 2010’s is just two years away.
© 2008 ag comm
Write to Alan Guebert at agcomm, 21673 Lago Dr., Delavan, IL 61734, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org