Farm Bill Chaos
The House Agriculture Committee’s three-day stint to write the new farm bill got off to a chaotic start yesterday, as the new Democratic majority showed it’s still getting used to being in charge.
Some people lined up for hours to get in the cramped hearing room and reporters covering the legislation were told to get there early.
But the committee staff kept the doors locked until just before the meeting began and then only a few people got in. The rest had to scramble to an overflow room next door to watch it on television. For reporters, it didn’t matter how early you got there since the only ones that got into the main hearing room were those that pushed their way to the front of the line.
Then, as people were rushing into the overflow room, the meeting started and the audio was turned down so low, the committee chairman’s remarks couldn’t be heard.
Turned out, it didn’t much matter since the chairman, Rep. Collin Peterson, R-Minn., decided not to do any real work on the bill because Republicans hadn’t had time to read his latest draft, which was just produced late Monday.
The whole farm bill process has been mired in confusion this year because of the overarching uncertainty about how much money will be available for the five-year bill.
Peterson has been given a “baseline” amount from the Budget Committee, which, to members of the Agriculture Committee, is well short of what’s needed.
However, Peterson has been told the bill can have another $20 billion if “offsets” can be found in other programs. The money hasn’t been “found” yet, leaving committee members to deal with pretend money.
Republicans are very reluctant to pass a bill out of the committee before the additional money has a hard commitment.
Otherwise, Oklahoma Rep. Frank Lucas said, fights could erupt on the House floor over how to distribute the limited funds and the committee could lose control of the policy it’s responsible for writing.
The fun begins again this morning. Maybe the committee will demonstrate today that it has some control.
Chris Casteel, Washington Bureau
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