Where's the accountability?

Jul 19, 2013

The House of Representatives may have put the cart ahead of the horse on their recent farm bill project. Last week, the House narrowly passed a farm bill that excluded any food assistance programs. Separating the two pieces of legislation is a good idea in my view because it would provide more transparency and help define the true costs of each program. But who in Congress has ever been worried about transparency?

If the House had passed a food assistance bill prior to the farm-only bill, they would have a much easier time passing a farm bill. However, if they choose not to pass a farm bill, with or without food assistance, by the Sept. 30 deadline, it doesn’t mean the programs go away, they will simply be funded through the annual appropriations process.

The farm community was ready to let direct payments go and has anticipated it for some time. Having a good insurance and disaster program is meant to take the place of the direct payments. But that idea is having a rough time taking hold because of the level of premium subsidy support and the idea that a few rich farmers would be able to use the discounted insurance just galls some in Congress.

The farm bill was due to go to the conference committee the end of last week. Many think that the food assistance programs will re-appear in any farm bill that comes out of Congress. Why? Because it’s always been that way. A change from the normal is something that politicians and their staffs don’t seem to like very much. But this is something I think has to happen.

Anyone who thinks that food assistance programs won’t get any attention from the House are nuts. The food assistance program consumes 80 percent of the farm bill budget and is like the elephant in the room; it simply won’t go unattended. But food assistance is where some congressmen want to find big cuts. The Senate version of the bill was to cut just 4 billion and the House version was to cut 20 billion from the two bills. The House passed the stripped down bill simply to get it to conference and get it completed.

Some observers have said that a farm bill without food assistance would doom subsequent farm bills in the future because there won’t be the interest from politicians to mess with it. In relative terms, the farm bill is not that big an expenditure for the federal government and does contribute to food security. Having a good insurance program and some substantial disaster relief is a vital component to the safety net of farming and ranching. The drought of 2012-2013 is a prime example of how much these programs are needed to maintain the small number of food producers.

But legislators got a mixed message from the Farm Bureau when they crafted a letter supporting the House version of the farm bill and had over 500 farm groups signed on to endorse it. The letter was adjusted after the fact to include a statement of opposition if the nutrition title were split from the House farm bill. I’d say Farm Bureau has some explaining to do.

But as always, the politics takes over and that’s when everyone starts to suffer. All legislation is crafted today to make the other party look bad. It’s the politics that I hate, especially when it gets in the way of the common good of this country.

An example would be the news that came out last week when the Obama administration announced they were going to postpone the employer mandate tied to Obamacare. The administration sold it as if they were doing employers a favor and giving them time to deal with the complex program. They were more concerned how the implementation of the mandate would affect the 2014 mid-term elections. Ultimately, the Obama administration simply broke the law, which the Wall Street Journal pointed out in an editorial last week.

Congress passes laws and the administration is to implement the laws and do it within the timeline set forth by the law. I would expect that the individual mandate will have to be postponed, because it will cause just as much political damage and the government-run health care exchanges are not ready to do business, and most likely not be ready for the 2014 roll out. But on the other hand, the Obama administration is more about redistribution of wealth than doing the right thing. This administration is all about politics, and only politics.

I realize that this is a new deal for Congress and voting on smaller, more concise bills is what they need. This farm bill is still 600 pages; imagine how big it would be with the nutrition title in it. But I don’t think these legislators can digest these huge bills and do them justice. It may just be another way to hold them accountable, but it’s time to do it. — PETE CROW