Election: Farm Bill Still Deadlocked


Dressed in a Kansas State Wildcat purple blazer, chomping gum instead of his signature cigars and cracking political jokes like a 25-year-old in a Saturday Night Live skit, a white-haired Barry Flinchbaugh seemed more like an entertainer than the dean of America's ag economists. But the message he shared with 575 lenders at the National Agricultural Bankers Conference Monday was deadly serious: The tightest presidential election in history will come to an end on election day, but it won't solve serious deadlocks on Capitol Hill.

“It's not economic uncertainty that's driving the economy. It's political uncertainty and political incompetence,” Flinchbaugh said. “We're likely to wake up Wednesday morning and we'll discover the election won't solve it. Republicans will control the House, Democrats will control the Senate, President (Barack) Obama will have four more years in the White House, but it may be so close that Governor (Mitt) Romney wins the popular vote but loses the Electoral College.” The latest CNN polls peg the popular vote at 49{8a1275384cb93b18aa3d41af404144e37302a793dec468d70d54c97b65cfac05} for each candidate.

Flinchbaugh has been teaching farm economics at Kansas State University since Chevys had fins. In the 1996 Farm Bill debate, he chaired a congressional advisory panel on farm policy. Long before that, he provided private counsel to legends like Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole and Sen. Pat Roberts. One of his former students, Sam Brownback, serves as the governor of Kansas.

Now Flinchbaugh is chastising “wing nuts” at both extremes of the political parties for their inability to compromise. He doubts the lame duck Congress will address farm legislation that expired Sept. 30, leaving the dairy program in limbo, livestock producers without disaster relief and funding nightmares for soil conservation. Authority for food stamp programs ends Dec. 31. Crop insurance is covered by separate legislation, so would continue intact, although critics are demanding cuts in the premium subsidies farmers receive or perhaps restrictions on big farmers.

“When Congress had the audacity in the midst of a 60-year drought to adjourn and let the farm bill expire, I told AP that if I was a member of Congress I'd be too embarrassed to go home,” Flinchbaugh said.

What some members of Congress don't seem to realize is that the country reverted to permanent farm legislation on Oct. 1 that has its roots in the 1930s and was last amended in 1949, he said. If Congress doesn't act, “2013 crops will be covered by an ancient, nonrecourse loan program that sets a 50{8a1275384cb93b18aa3d41af404144e37302a793dec468d70d54c97b65cfac05} to 90{8a1275384cb93b18aa3d41af404144e37302a793dec468d70d54c97b65cfac05} price floor on commodities, indexed to parity prices from 1910 to 1914. . .That's 100-year-old farm policy.”

It means wheat prices will be fixed at $18 per bushel, corn at $12 per bu., beans $27 per bu., cotton $2 per pound and milk at $52 per hundredweight. The secretary of agriculture would also be required to hold immediate referendums on supply controls, an absurd scenario given the Corn Belt's continuing drought.

Legislators are deadlocked over funding for food and nutrition programs, but farm bills can't pass Congress without urban support, he noted. “There are less than 50 ag districts out of 435, so how do you pass a bill without food stamps? It's not rocket science. They'd even understand this at the University of Kansas: You've got to build a majority when you're in the minority.”

The most likely outcome will be for Congress to delay rewriting farm legislation until next April. By then, the administration will be scrambling to finalize regulations in time for the 2013 crop.

“I'm pleading for horse sense,” Flinchbaugh said. “When someone asked Harry Truman what he meant by that, he defined it as something mules don't have.”

Farm lenders appear to be losing patience with Washington as well. Continuing crop insurance with its revenue protections and premium subsidies is critical to ensuring growers qualify for credit come spring.

“We just suffered a drought near Yankton, S.D., the likes of which no one has ever seen. Growers couldn't have survived without insurance,” said Denny Everson, executive director of the First Dakota National Bank. “Even if Congress eliminates everything else in the farm bill, they need to leave the crop insurance subsidy as is. If they don't, in one to two years we'll be back with people pleading for ad hoc disaster programs again.”

Source: DTN

Posted by Northern Ag Network

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