If it seems like Congress just can’t get the farm bill done, well… that’s because it can’t. The massive food and agriculture package used to be relatively easy thanks to bipartisan and urban-rural alliances. But this year, progress was a slow slog. A nine-month extension passed in January bought some time. This summer, the Senate passed its bill, but the House didn’t. Then it sent two bills to the conference committee, one for agriculture and the other for food stamps. Just before Thanksgiving, Iowa Republican Steve King, a conference committee member, remained optimistic.
(Amy in tape: so are you going to be able to deliver a farm bill back to Iowa before Christmas? King: I think so. It’s more than 50/50 in my mind right now, the momentum of this. There really was a sincere effort to get it done by Thanksgiving, but we didn’t get there.) (:17)
Now Christmas and New Year’s are out, too. There are three fundamental reasons today’s lawmakers have such a hard time getting the job done. Iowa State University political scientist David Peterson says one is the striking chasm separating today’s Washington politicians.
Cut: We’ve seen an increasing polarization within Congress, in particular we’ve seen the modern Republican party move further to the right. The Democrats have moved some to the left, but really what is driving it is the Republicans have moved further to the right. (:14)
That leaves fewer players drawn toward the middle, where compromises are forged. And it takes a majority of both houses AND the president to enact laws.
Cut: The problem we’ve got right now is that the amount of things that a majority of the House—and in particular a majority of the Republicans, a majority of the majority party in the House, the Democratic Senate, and the Democratic president can agree on is vanishingly small. (:15)
On top of polarization and gridlock, add the lack of earmarks. Peterson says in times past, Congressional leaders could use those small, very specific addendums to sway neutral lawmakers to their side of a bill. But in the last decade, he says, Congress got rid of earmarks. Now deadlines are a main driver pushing Congress to act, though they haven’t been very effective. To be sure, it’s not just the farm bill suffering from this. Everything in Congress is, but the farm bill’s history of relatively easily wending its way through makes the delay more striking.
Cut: this is a very, very visible policy that has really dramatic effects on a lot of people, particularly a lot of people in this area, and so it’s more visible. But it’s the same all around. (:14)
Now the word is: a new, five-year farm bill could come in January. How likely is that? Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, a Republican member of the agriculture committee, says he’d be worried if another one-year extension were on the table. But that’s not what the House leadership is calling for.
Cut: It must mean that the Speaker has confidence that we’re getting close to an agreement. (:06)
But we’ll enter 2014 as we did 2013… waiting.
I’m Amy Mayer, Harvest Public Media.