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What Happened To Bipartisanship?

I will probably sound somewhat repetitious in sharing my thoughts about the failure of Congress to pass a Farm Bill this fall. It seems that everyone in the media and out on the turnrow is saying the same thing about this debacle in Washington. So here goes. Why can’t intelligent people come together and do the right thing for farmers? Is that such a difficult proposition in today’s world?

Perhaps that is a rather simplistic way of describing the situation, but apparently we have reached the point in Congress that nothing can be done if it gives a perceived advantage to a political party. This kind of gridlock has happened before, and I certainly can recall 1994 when the Farm Bill debate spilled over into the next year before it was finally signed into law. I specifically remember attending a press conference at the National Association of Farm Broadcasters convention in Kansas City and hearing Ag Secretary Mike Espy somewhat apologize to the public because the bill had become bogged down in Congress.

We won’t rehash all of the political trainwrecks of the past to make our point. Slowly but surely the specter of partisan politics has become part of the Farm Bill debate, and it’s discouraging to see agriculture suffer because of it. I know my friends get tired of me talking about an earlier era when bipartisanship carried the day in Farm Bill debates. The best interests of the farmer were always put ahead of partisan politics. By the time both House and Senate Ag Committees had worked out their differences in conference, it was a sure bet that Congress would approve a Farm Bill, or at least it seemed that way to me. Enough advance work had been done on both sides of the aisle to shove the bill through. Granted, there were always folks like Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) who continued to try and eliminate some program payments. But there was a distinct difference in the mood of Congress in the 1980s when I started following developments there.

I’ll give some credit to today’s House and Senate Ag Committees for moving their versions of the bill along in a timely manner. Naturally, it appears that the House version of the legislation is more amenable to Southern row crop agriculture – and especially to cotton. The ultimate slap in the face to farmers occurs when the House won’t even bring the bill to the floor for a vote. What a travesty!

We sincerely hope that this kind of political football won’t be played again anytime soon. The damage, however, has already been done. Farmers would have benefited from a Farm Bill that provided a roadmap for the future and a way to make long-term planning decisions.

Instead, now we have to get ready for a lameduck session of Congress in November or a new Congress in 2013 for the next version of the bill.

Farmers in this country deserve better.