For lack of a little horse sense

Dec 1, 2012

With less than a month for action, and just a couple more weeks of the lame-duck session, the information highway is full of what-ifs, and he said–she saids, relating to the impending “fiscal cliff.”

The continuing debates bring up a visual in my head of my  ex-husband trying to get a mare across a creek. He had gotten off of her, and he was on the opposite side of the creek pulling for all he was worth, with no sign of the mule-like horse budging. In this visual I have, I’m not sure which side of that creek represents the liberal or conservative perspective, but either way, the point is the same—and the outcome looks a little daunting, from both sides of the creek.

If the two parties in Washington can’t come up with a plan, Americans can plan on $600 billion in spending cuts and tax increases to ring in the New Year.

Sen. Mike Johanns, R-NE, recently told reporters, “The impact on our economy would be a bad deal if we go over the fiscal cliff.”

Discussions about the Republican party being willing to consider tax increases to avoid the fiscal cliff have been making the rounds. But, ironically, the numbers they’ve thrown out have been a bit too large for Democrats. Cuts that were on the table just last year are now being snubbed by the very same side that proposed them.

“I haven’t seen any suggestions on what they’re going to do on spending,” a frustrated Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-UT, said. “There’s a certain cockiness that I’ve seen that is really astounding to me since we’re basically in the same position we were before.”

Democrats say they are willing to tackle spending on entitlement programs if Republicans agree to raise income tax rates on the wealthiest Americans.

“We hope that [Republicans] can agree to the tax revenue that we’re talking about, and that is rate increases, and as the president’s said on a number of occasions, we’ll be happy to deal with entitlements,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NE, said last Tuesday.

While they are busy arguing over entitlements and raising taxes on the wealthy, the farm bill still lies in limbo with some new discussion supporting inclusion of it in a fiscal cliff package.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-MI, said the White House was “very open” to including the farm bill as part of a fiscal cliff package, according to a report.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-KS, ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, told reporters, “Some way, somehow, we need to get a five-year farm bill passed. There are an awful lot of farmers and ranchers and their lenders out there now who are sort of in financial purgatory.”

One thing that everyone seems to agree on is there are no guarantees in a lame-duck session. In fact, historically, a lame-duck session just acts as a catalyst for new agendas, adding to the argument that it just may be too late for Congress to pass a good farm bill this year. Spending legislative time on a trillion dollar multi-year bill that increases taxpayer subsidies for agriculture—a $122 billion industry—just may be too much to ask of Congress. So maybe an extension is the most we can hope for.

“Time is running short and clearly there is no lack of big-ticket items that need to be addressed in this lame-duck session. Some pundits pontificate that consideration of the farm bill could easily be postponed for consideration next year. But, it is certain that Congress must either pass the pending farm bill or some type of extension before the recess or accept the fact that outdated farm policies put in place more than 70 years ago will begin impacting families all across America. That’s right; unless Congress acts quickly, much of our farm policy will revert back to laws passed in the 1930s and 40s,” wrote Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Stallman points out that passing the five-year bill would make much more sense than an extension, but common sense does not always prevail.

The 112th Congress has just two weeks left to accomplish, arguably, more than it has in two years.

It had 22 months to pass a farm bill and it didn’t even make it to the House for a debate. Is there really a chance we will see one before the end of the year?

And for the record, that horse never did cross that creek. — TRACI EATHERTON