Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Quick, help me shoot my other foot...

In one of his more surprising assertions to date, Rep. Collin Peterson - announced he would be trying to prevent those sneaky "non-farmers" from getting subsidy payments.
Peterson intimated a new definition of those "actively engaged" in agriculture might find its way into the next farm bill for the purposes of weeding non-farmers out of the farm program. And he also said Congress could redefine the term "farmers," at least for the purposes of receiving farm program payments. [More]
Hmmm. Let's think this through. If he is successful, he could single-handedly drive a stake into the failing heart of share rent, just when ag economists are pronouncing shared risk as the "right way" to lease farmland. Variable-rent leases require both parties be qualified as "farmers" (and a new definition could be a thing of rare beauty). Straight cash rents do not. [Also see update on previous post] I'm not sure farmers would be all that thrilled with this development.

The legislators went farther to double-dog dare the president to veto the bill.
"It would be very unwise from a policy standpoint - I don't know what it is that they want to do," Combest said. "And from a political standpoint, I think that there are a number of members of the President's party in Congress, both the House and in the Senate, that are gonna find themselves in very precarious situations if they do."

Moreover, according to Combest, the Bush administration has no alternative to either the House or Senate farm bill. At least, Combest said, no alternative with any political viability.

"You know, you expect them to be a player in this and a partner in this, and they want to be players in the conference," Combest said. "But they haven't shown anything in reality, in my opinion, of what they would like to do, and certainly nothing that has any support at all."

For all those reasons, Combest said he expects President Bush to sign the next farm bill. He pointed out President Bush signed a much more costly farm bill in 2002, when Combest chaired both the House Ag Committee and the House-Senate conference committee that delivered the final version of the measure.
They, of course are the experts in such matter. But on the slim possibility that President Bush does stand firm on his demands for reform and real offsets, something he has actually done with children's health, WRDA, and an omnibus spending bill, we could see the demise of some rural political dogma: Does the "farm vote" really decide rural districts and states?

Suppose the farm bill is vetoed and legislators discover the outcry is lost in the rhetoric of the economy, war, health care, and especially immigration. In short, what if very few people really care enough to base their votes on a farm bill that very likely doesn't affect them?

If a veto should emerge, watch the grain markets. Without some wild reaction, it would be a clear indicator of indifference by people who make their living from our output, and another sign of growing irrelevance for this special interest legislation.

This could suddenly place in plain view what pollsters have been suspecting for years. The "farm bill vote" is going to compete with the immigration vote, the tax vote, the religion vote, etc. Even farmers themselves may split along simple personality issues (OMG, Hillary!) and still vote for a "R" despite a Bush veto.

At least the many of the guys I talk to would - if she is the nominee. And I think that problem would carry down to Dem challengers of Republican incumbents.

The White House may have better political instincts here that popularly thought. Consider the upside for fiscal conservatives if they could rein in farm bill excess and live to tell the story. And consider the kudos from the right as Bush leaves the stage.

No comments: