Déjà Vu All Over Again

June 27, 2008

WASHINGTON (June 27, 2008)—If it seems like Congress was voting on the farm bill every time you turned around, it’s probably because they have been.  And industry insiders fear that the farm bill will not fade from the forefront anytime soon.

The first public farm bill fight centered on the now-infamous Kind-Flake amendment. Despite the expensive lobbying and advertising campaign, opponents of farm policy fell flat and their attempt to gut the farm bill was beat beat on the House floor by 309-117 vote last July.

Next came a series of missed farm bill deadlines.  The first deadline struck on Sept. 30 when the 2002 farm bill officially expired.  To stave off panic in rural America, Congress passed a series of temporary extensions to give lawmakers more time to finish their work.

Then there was the Senate version of Kind-Flake, which was similarly defeated 58 to 37.  With this amendment out of the way, and budget questions answered, the farm bill logjam in the Senate broke, and a farm bill was passed 79 to 14 moments before lawmakers left town for Christmas.

Considering the House and Senate passed comparable bills, one would assume that the farm bill would quickly become law…wrong.  The Administration then got in the game and began pushing for wholesale changes and massive budget cuts to the bill.

For months, Congress worked with the Administration to ensure the final bill would have their support.  The result was a compromise bill between the House and the Senate that yielded to many of the Administration’s demands.

Yet the White House still vocally opposed the farm bill.  Republican lawmakers were quick to distance themselves from White House complaints and pledged their support of a veto override if necessary.

And those veto override votes would be necessary not once, but twice.

Bolstered with the support of 557 farm, nutrition, and conservation groups , the House and Senate overwhelmingly passed the farm bill, which the President quickly vetoed.

That veto was in turn overridden, this time at the urging of 1,054 farm, nutrition, and conservation groups.

But the story doesn’t end there.  Fourteen of the bill’s 15 titles became law after the veto override vote, but because of a procedural error, the Trade Title did not immediately become law .  So Congress had to pass the bill again, the President had to veto it again, and Congress had to override that veto yet again on June 18.

If you’re exhausted, you’re not alone, but there’s no time to rest.  The international community is now getting in on the act.

Pascal Lamy, the director general of the World Trade Organization, was recently quoted saying, “The only chance you have to trump this Farm Bill is a WTO deal.”

WTO leaders are scheduled to meet the week of July 21 to discuss agriculture and other issues.  Will the Bush Administration, which opposed the farm bill, try to trade it away in international negotiations?

Stay tuned…the farm bill saga might not be over yet.