As I follow various sources of information in the farm bill debate, I am struck by the lack of consensus on possible outcomes. For example, some feel Sen. Harkin is over-matched by hardball players like Sen Conrad.
But Conrad is a relentless political operator who never quits. And that’s the pity. Harkin is an idea man with a progressive vision of where U.S. agriculture is going and what the farm bill should look like. But as the weeks drag on and Senate work on the farm bill is delayed, he seems increasingly hemmed in by Conrad’s aggressive tactics and the real politik of Senate dealing making.Meanwhile, the change in leadership at the USDA leaves some unsure where the administration will draw the line in the sand (if any).
He acknowledged as much Tuesday in one of his regular teleconferences with reporters. While he still held out hopes for what he said would be “very modest” reforms of the basic subsidy programs, he twice noted that he was limited by “the art of the possible,” i.e., he can’t move a bill out of his committee without votes from hardline advocates of traditional subsidies. [More]
* If there is a payment limit for farmers with an average gross income (AGI) of $200,000 that the Bush administration has suggested, or the $1 million limit in the House farm bill, why not pay those farmers up to that point of the limit? Why take an all-or-nothing approach?
"Remember," Conner said, "our approach is $200,000 averaged over three years. So I don't see that as all or nothing. This is a sustained person who is in the top 2.3 percent of tax filers in America -- of all tax filers. We understand there are boom and bust years, and there is always going to be, so it may not be fair if you just happen to hit a great year, and maybe even marketing even more than one crop in a particular year because of the price situation, that one year would throw a producer out. But if you manage to do that over a period of three years, you are just flat out one of the top income people in the United States of America. As we have said time and time again, we do believe that if you reach a point where you've realized the American dream to the fullest extent, and again, if you're one of the top income earners in America, you need to graduate. These programs today are income support programs."
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Meanwhile, back at the farm, incandescent prices could provide an interesting backdrop for any possible floor debate in the Senate. I doubt that will occur, but I do think the bizarre funding proposals (FICA exemptions?) may struggle to pass muster.
I also think a Doha agreement would put immense pressure on even a finished farm bill. Too many other sectors with political goals of their own would have to subordinate their interests to agriculture to pass up the trade benefits.
As always, the White House is a real wild card. This president looks veto-itchy to me.