Meet the Farm Program Bullies: Stabenow and Leahy

Posted on 05/04/2017 9:29 AM

House Ag panel leader blasts the senators for being ‘reckless’

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material; therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.

The try-to-take-and-run maneuvers made by two northern-state senators against U.S. cotton producers continue to generate barbed but on-the-mark responses from other key lawmakers.

If you listen to AgriTalk, and you should, the topic at hand is the lazy approach taken by Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), the ranking member on the Senate Agriculture Committee, and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), ranking member on the Senate Appropriations panel. The laziness comes in because the two bully senators wanted to extract hard-fought budget offsets produced by cotton lobbyists and lawmakers to provide producers a safety net they now lack and use the delicate budget offsets to fund changes in the dairy program.

Ever since the 2014 Farm Bill we have noted the failure of the National Cotton Council (NCC) in their approach to that farm policy measure, largely because the group’s leadership, now changed, listened to Brazil more than their producers. But the new team at NCC apparently did a lot of listening and worked for over a year in working out with several groups a plan that would provide budget offsets to make an estimated $4 billion in farm program payouts budget neutral over 10 years.

But in a virtual last-minute sneak attack, the bully senators wanted to adjust a key parameter of the cotton program language and steal $800 million of the budget offsets to come up with funding for their favored dairy program changes.

House Ag Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas) blasted Sens. Stabenow and Leahy as “reckless” on stopping aid to cotton producers. Conaway said the senators were “reckless” in requiring that the budget deal also include aid for dairy producers. Stabenow and Leahy proposed to pay for the dairy aid by reducing the cotton payments rather than coming up with budget offsets for their requested dairy program language.

Pitting one commodity against another “is a terrible thing to do, unless you want it to fail, and that’s what happened,” Conaway told members of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting yesterday.

Ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture panel, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, said he hoped Stabenow and Leahy “learned their lesson... This is not the way to do things, to come in at the last minute and demand things, just because you’ve got a lot of power. That has got to end,” Peterson said. This is why Peterson continues to get reelected despite being in a GOP-leaning district. He levels with voters.

As for Stabenow, she said it was not fair to provide aid to cotton producers but not dairy. And she said that both issues should be part of a broader debate over the next farm bill. But veteran farm bill watchers say she wanted to keep cotton at bay to use that as leverage to get what she wants via the upcoming farm bill debate. But unlike the 2014 Farm Bill debate, Stabenow is not the chairwoman, and she has lawmakers far more willing to take her on this time, and even to confront Leahy, who has a long history of getting what he wants relative to dairy program gimmes.

Stabenow's odd logic on her run at cotton budget offsets: “We were willing to say yes to their full request if we could help dairy … and math tells me that would have been a pretty good deal for cotton,” Stabenow said Monday, adding that she will work to ensure the next farm bill (due September 2018) contains effective risk management tools for those dealing with low commodity prices or weathering disasters. Her math is like what a doctor told me in a recent visit when he said, “The next time you come in I want you to lose five pounds.” I asked, “Why only five pounds?” The doctor responded, “Because the last two times you have come into the office, you gained 10 pounds. I figure if you lose five pounds, it’s like losing 15 pounds.” I told him he could work as an analyst for the Congressional Budget Office (CBO)... or now Sens. Stabenow and Leahy.

Did the bullies overplay their hand? Yes.

Will there be revenge? Well as President Ronald Reagan used to say, “Revenge is an emotion, not a policy.”


NOTE: This column is copyrighted material; therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.


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