Farm & Food File by Alan Guebert: Ridin’ the crazy train
August 8, 2013
After a 10-day cooling off period known as the Fourth of July recess, House and Senate members came back to steamy, hot Washington, D.C. July 9 to do exactly what most Americans expected them to do: spew more steamy, hot bilge at each other.
These folks are, after all, seasoned professionals when it comes to contempt. Their default mode is detonate, not debate. They throw grenades at each other, not ideas; they break, not build.
As such, Capitol Hill now reigns as the global capital of crazy and the only thing that runs on any kind of a reliable schedule there is the crazy train. Everything else – civility, compromise, citizenry – is swallowed whole by the city's growing population of puffed-up gasbags, preening show horses and braying jackasses.
The biggest, most recent victim of this baloney-powered approach to governing is, again, the Farm Bill. The July 11 vote by the House to pass its Republicans-only, no-food-assistance version was a hypocrisy-dripping exercise of ugliness.
As the divisive bill was being written – without one hearing, witness or Ag Committee vote – behind closed doors by a handful of GOP leaders, 532 farm groups swung into action to publicly note their displeasure. Their big move? They wrote a letter to Speaker John Boehner asking him and his Republican buddies not to do it.
Egads! A letter! What's next, the old wet noodle smack-down?
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House Republicans are dowsing farmers, ranchers and rural America – not to mention 47 million Americans currently receiving, on average, $4.39 per day in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits – in partisan bile and the best Big, Small and In-Between Ag can do is send a letter to "urge" the Speaker to stop?
And make no mistake; House Republicans are responsible for today's Farm Bill mess. Minority Democrats in the House couldn't pass the time of day without Republican votes. That's a fact; that's reality.
There are more facts that lead to a greater reality.
For example, by tradition, House Speakers rarely vote. Yet on both 2013 House Farm Bill votes, Speaker Boehner not only voted, he voted yea each time – first for the failed, comprehensive bill brought forward by a bipartisan coalition of Ag Committee members and, second, for the built-in-the-dark, GOP-only bill that excludes SNAP but includes more money for farm programs.
Similarly, 40 of the 62 tea-tinged GOP House members who voted against the Ag Committee's comprehensive, June bill because it was too expensive literally turned on their heels and voted for the no-SNAP, more expensive farm program bill in July.
Also, after the 216-208 party line vote July 11, several House Republicans said they voted for the no-food-aid bill so Senate and House ag leaders might begin negotiations to marry each chamber's version before the start of a month-long August recess.
That explanation quickly turned into Grade A baloney, however, after it took House leaders more than five days to walk their bill a few hundred feet across the Rotunda to the Senate.
Moreover, on July 15, a day before the no-SNAP House bill finally arrived, Senate Ag Chair Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., wondered what to do it with it when it did finally show up. Talking to reporters on a conference call, Stabenow predicted the narrow House winner would be a big Senate loser.
"First of all," related Stabenow, "we could not pass that (bill) through the Senate, nor would the president sign that kind of bill. It would be a major mistake on policy, and it would be a major mistake in getting a bill done because it wouldn't get done."
Two days later House Ag Chair Frank Lucas was again fumbling for a way forward with the mess he helped create by agreeing to the no-SNAP House bill. On July 16 he said the joint Senate-House Farm Bill conference was on; on July 17, he said it might not be on.
Which confirms an earlier point: the only thing on Capitol Hill that runs on time anymore is the crazy train.
© 2013 ag comm