Path to the 2012 Farm Bill: One Week to Go, What Next?
December 21st, 2012
Last night House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) pulled his so-called “Plan B” — with tax and spending cut measures — from the floor when it became clear that he didn’t have the Republican votes needed to pass it.
The Speaker launched his now-failed Plan B plan at the beginning of the week, calling off any further bipartisan “fiscal cliff” negotiations with President Obama and instead returning to a highly partisan, red-meat strategy that shelved nearly all of the agreements he had reached to date in talks with the White House. Only, alas, to discover that the red meat was not red enough for what was rumored to be about 40 to 50 of the 234 House Republicans. So instead, he sent the House of Representatives home for the holidays and suggested that it was now up to the President and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to pick up the pieces and figure something out.
Asking the Democrats to come up with their own plan, as Boehner did last night, makes no sense. Only a deal with Boehner’s name on it has any chance of passing in the House. So what are the Speaker’s Plan C choices? It seems fairly clear that there are basically only two.
Option one: He could do what he has done many times before, when needing to pass must-pass legislation like the appropriations bills to fund the government or the temporary highway bill. He could reach a bipartisan deal and rely on a very substantial number of Democratic votes plus a bare majority (or not even) of Republican votes to fairly handily turn the deal into law.
Option two: He could throw the country into disarray by allowing tax hikes, budget-axe sequestration cuts, a Medicare crisis, termination of unemployment benefits, and a big spike in milk prices to take effect in order not to offend the far right of the Republican party.
How the farm bill factors into this choice is, if anything, more complicated than it was before Speaker Boehner started heading down the Plan B detour route. The complications are amplified by the very limited number of possible legislative days left in this session — basically December 28 through January 2 — or six days if you assume they work through the weekend, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day, which would be a first.
Nonetheless, the basic contours of a short-term farm bill extension plus guidance for writing a long-term bill next year are fairly clear, as we indicated yesterday.
The choice basically comes down to leadership. Either get a deal and pass it with a bipartisan vote, albeit with a substantial number of Republican House defectors. Or let those defectors, though a minority, send the country into chaos, and then, after a few weeks of negative market and voter reaction, see if option one can be queued up again later in January. Hopefully, this will be a “profiles in courage” moment, and Plan C, option one, complete with a modified farm bill extension, will become reality before the new Congress reconvenes on January 3.
In the meantime, at the other end of the National Mall from the Capitol, USDA is left with the awful holiday season task of preparing for sequestration, staff cuts, and huge (budget busting) purchases of dairy products, while “What’s at Stake” programs continue to twist in the wind.
This is insanity. Our holiday wish is that the White House and House, Senate, and Agriculture Committee leadership will patch something together next week and avoid a ridiculous, self-defeating new year train wreck.