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Karl's Column - Off to a Bad Start

by Carolyn Binder

Some time this month, the U.S. Congress will put together a new farm bill, such as the one they didn’t get done in 2013, when it was only a year behind, nor in 2012, which is when the new one would have followed seamlessly on the one supposedly expired, but which is in fact still in effect because of the aforementioned failures, and the stopgap continuing resolutions. As you surely have realized, a new farm bill is not the only major legislative failure in Washington.

The federal government was operating - - or treading water - - under a continuing resolution that was to expire on the 15th of January, just to avoid another government shutdown. A whole raft of major issues await Congressional action.  House and Senate Ag Committee staffers are said to be working feverishly to get a new farm bill ready.  That would be ready for consideration, not necessarily passage into law.  You will recall the House adopted a new farm bill last year - - the Senate collectively laughed and said, “you gotta be kidding”, and that was the end of that.  For what it’s worth, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Representative Tim Walz of Minnesota both expect the farm bill to be finished in January.  And the President will sign it - - or should that be, “And the President will sign it???”.

U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack keeps the pressure on Congress as best he can, because a new farm bill would continue USDA support for market expansion around the world.  Under Secretary Michael Scuse notes U.S. ag exports hit almost 141 Billion dollars in fiscal 2013, supporting about a million U.S. Jobs.

We’ve heard little to nothing from the President himself on the various proposals on the farm bill, or anything else for that matter - - except, of course, Obamacare.  But he has announced his choice to succeed Bart Chilton as Commissioner of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.  His choice is Sharon Bowen, a New York lawyer and Acting Chairman of the Securities Investor Protection Corporation, which deals with “missing asset” cases, in efforts to recover those missing funds. She has no support among agriculture groups - - probably because she has no Agriculture background.  She needs Senate confirmation.

1 On the other hand, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack has named Brian Ronholm to deal with Food Safety.  He has a background in Agriculture, having worked with Connecticut Representative Rosa DeLauro on a range of agricultural appropriations issues, and on legislative authorizing measures, including the 2008 Farm Bill.

You may recall that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been poking its unwelcome schnoz into family farm labor issues - specifically exempted by Congress.  The message to OSHA from a bipartisan group of 43 Senators - - “Butt Out!”

So, OK - - Bad Start - - but, there’s hope!  From here, the only way to go is Forward!