Republican lawmakers in rural farming communities were worried that they would have to go home to their districts empty-handed, without any tools to help farmers deal with this summer’s massive drought. They tried to sidestep this problem by passing, at the last possible minute, a bill to provide a year of drought relief to livestock producers. They could then blame the Senate for not following suit, even though the Senate had no chance to do so. And that could serve as a talking point to explain the lack of a farm bill, despite a deadline at the end of next month.
This gambit isn’t working.
John Askew pulled at a soybean pod and revealed two anemic beans dappled with stem rot, the harvest of a too hot sun and too little rain. Representative Tom Latham peered in and shook his head.
“We need a farm bill — that’s the first thing,” said Mr. Askew, whose family has farmed here for six generations. Mr. Latham, a Republican, agrees.
But House leaders, including Speaker John A. Boehner, who popped into Iowa on Friday night to promote Mr. Latham’s re-election campaign, have been unable to muster the votes [...]
Farmers are complaining loudly to their representatives, editorial boards across the heartland are hammering Congress over its inaction, and incumbents from both parties are sparring with their challengers over agricultural policy.
Farmers know that a stopgap disaster relief bill simply won’t undo the damage from the drought, and the lack of a farm bill could make the damage worse. The politics of this are that the House failed to take up its own farm bill, the one that passed the Agriculture Committee, for the first time in history. The Senate got its work done on a bipartisan basis. So it’s hard to pin this on anyone but the House leadership.
The President, kicking off a three-day tour through Iowa, where the drought will surely come up a lot, took some minor action today by promising that the federal government would buy up to $170 million of pork, lamb, chicken and catfish, and put the assets in food banks nationwide. It sounds like he’s just authorizing federal agencies to accelerate purchases, so on net this may not help over time. Globally, the G20 has planned their own disaster response.
The real action to take on drought conditions is to help ensure that they will happen with less frequency by mitigating the effects of climate change. But that kind of language is strictly verboten.
UPDATE: Looking at the USDA’s release on this, the purchases are under an emergency program:
Through the Emergency Surplus Removal Program, USDA can use Section 32 funds to purchase meat and poultry products to assist farmers and ranchers who have been affected by natural disasters. The pork, lamb and catfish purchases are based on analyses of current market conditions. A major factor affecting livestock producers is the value of feed, which is currently running high because of the drought.
That’s beneficial, though I’m not certain about how long that can be sustained without a new appropriation.