The House will take up its standalone disaster relief bill today, which will serve as a talking point in rural Republican districts as “action” being taken to respond to the historic drought plaguing the country. The House waited until the last possible day before the August recess to pass the measure, giving the Senate basically no time to concur. So there won’t really be action taken before the recess, but House members can say “I passed a bill and now the Senate must act.”
The House could have passed the bill the day before; in fact, it was on the suspension calendar Wednesday. But they feared they would not be able to muster the 2/3 vote for the program and pulled it from the calendar late in the day. This assured that the Senate would not be able to deal with it.
Let’s just recount the saga of this bill. We’ve known about the drought for over a month. We also have known that a farm bill was moving through Congress with a September 30 deadline, and it would fit to attach any disaster relief needed for livestock producers to that (livestock producers, not corn farmers, are the ones really squeezed here. Farmers in the Corn Belt mostly have crop insurance in case of a disastrous year like this, but livestock producers who depend on corn feed aren’t similarly secured to deal with price spikes and scarcity). And the Senate acted by passing a five-year farm bill, which include the disaster relief measures the House wants to pass. The House Agriculture Committee followed suit. Then the leadership panicked. First they blocked the Ag Committee bill from consideration. Then they proposed a one-year extension at current levels, with the disaster relief as a sweetener. Finding opposition to that approach, because it continued direct farm payment programs that everyone agrees must be phased out, the House leadership jettisoned the one-year extension and now will just pass the disaster relief. And then they panicked with the suspension calendar. So now we’re down to the final day before the August recess. And, the disaster relief plan has offsets that cap conservation programs, drawing the ire of environmentalists. So the House stopgap is a partisan bill to boot, making it harder to pass at a time when half of all counties in America have been declared disaster areas due to the drought.
Meanwhile, there’s no plan whatsoever to pass a farm bill, at which point obsolete 1949-era programs would become the law of the land. Worst Congress Ever is really an understatement.
If there’s a way out of this, I hope it goes through relaxing the Renewable Fuels Standard.
Also on Thursday, some 135 lawmakers wrote Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson urging her to relax government rules requiring that a certain percentage of corn production go to making ethanol for transportation fuel.
“Relief from the Renewable Fuels Standard is extremely urgent because another short corn crop would be devastating to the animal agriculture industry, food manufacturers, food service providers, as well as consumers,” said the letter sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and Mike McIntyre, D-N.C. They said about 40 percent of the corn crop now goes into ethanol production.
There’s just no reason to mandate corn as fuel, which isn’t particularly good environmentally anyway, at a time of severe corn shortages.