Sunday, December 16, 2007

VOTE 60 : Norm Coleman Leadership produces Republican Victory in Farm Bill

"Judge me, Norm Coleman, by what I've done. By my ability to bring people together and my ability to make good things happen. You can measure it versus a guy who's been there 12 years; 12 years, which by the way is the time when your kids go at first grade to the time they graduate high school. If you're there, get the job done. Be measured by your ability to get the job done. I think that's fair." Candidate Coleman 2002

That was Candidate Coleman who presented an image of a can-do coalition builder. When the election results were announced that Coleman would be the representing Minnesota for the next six years, Independent voters, like me, thought “Let’s give the guy a chance ... if can work across the aisle, that would be great”

Coleman garnered two prime committee assignments – Foreign Relations (which he has disappointed me repeatedly) and Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry. Agriculture would be the big one for many Minnesotans.

Before discussing the current Farm Bill, it should be noted that the previous Farm Bill was signed by President Bush on May 13, 2002 to be effective with the beginning of the Fiscal Year on October 1, 2002 and expiring at the end of FY2007 ( or September 30, 2007). Coleman’s challenger in 2002, Paul Wellstone was on the Agriculture Committee and despite 9/11 and the military action thereafter, Congress was able to get the bill done in a timely manner. Farmers and bankers knew what to expect.

The House of Representatives held hearings and developed a bill that was passed in July 2007. The Senate though operates on its own time table.
The technically the Farm Security Act of 2002 expired on September 30, but through Public Law No: 110-92 continuing funding for many programs was extended (at the previous funding rates.)
The Senate Agriculture Committee approved the farm bill in October without any dissenting votes. The bill then languished on the floor as Republicans and Democrats clashed over how to deal with the nearly 300 amendments that had been filed.
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) wanted to select a list of amendments that were directly related to farm policy, but Republicans said that he should not be allowed to limit their proposals on such wide-ranging legislation.

On Friday, November 16th, the Senate finally addressed the issue with a procedural vote (meaning “Do we really want to vote on this?). The vote failed as 42 Republican Senators voted “No” (meaning “We are going to drag this out”).
According to Norm Coleman’s interview with former First District Congressman Tim Penny on Friday, Reid suggested that each side be allowed 20 amendments to be considered. Coleman stated that he convinced his fellow Republicans that they should precede. [ Now, we know what Coleman meant when he said “ my ability to bring people together, he meant bringing his fellow Republicans to action. ]

The Senate proceed to consider a number of amendments. EVERY Amendment FAILED …including the amendment known as the Dorgan-Grassley amendment which would have closed loopholes, placed a hard cap of $250,000 on payments and invested the savings in small business development, beginning farmers and other initiatives to create future in rural America. President Bush had requested that payments be limited to $200,000 but the Senate bill is for $1,000,000. This fiscally more responsible amendment failed by four votes with Coleman supporting the $1 million subsidy (read more here) .

So what was the point of waiting ?

We must remember that although subsidies got a lot of media attention, the bill also is the major authorization for nuitrition programs … (Food stamps, emergency food assistance program (TEFAP), Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), etc.) I have already written how Republicans Love Subsidies but Hate Welfare.

This delaying of approval has hurt the people who need these nutrition programs. Although Congress approved a Continuing Resolution in September, it was at the existing levels. As The Star-Tribune reported today “Food inflation has more than doubled during the past 12 months.” For example, nationally, eggs cost 37 percent more than a year ago. Chicken feed -- made mostly of corn -- is 60 to 70 percent of an egg farmer's costs. Dairy farmers pay more for feed, too, up by as much as 40 percent since last year. And why is corn up … demand for ethanol … another highly subsidized product and which will increase sixfold based on the Senate approving the Renewable Fuels, Consumer Protection, and Energy Efficiency Act of 2007 the day before it voted on the Farm Bill.

Let’s look at just how just one program will be impacted … milk and cheese account for about 40 percent of WIC food expenditures. As a result of higher food prices, it will cost significantly more for the people to buy these commodities … but the dollars were capped at last year’s rates … so the additional cost is being born by the needy … or they go without. Further, since the cost of the foods has increased faster than the budget, state WIC programs could have to reduce participation and establish waiting lists.

The end result is a cut to the Safety Net for the working families … but the Safety Net for $1 Million Dollar Mega-Farms is retained.

Thanks, Norm. I’ll be glad to “"Judge me, Norm Coleman, by what I've done.” … you’ve done a horrible job … on a Key Assignment … but I suspect that your Republican colleagues are pleased.
You delivered legislation late, that rewards the wrong people (even above what President Bush wanted) and hurts those that need it most.
By my account, you didn't "get the job done" !

FYI – The VOTE 60 in the title of this commentary refers to my effort to promote the importance of the US Senate races in 2008. VOTE 60 will be the headline of future commentaries and you can read about it here .

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