Tag: house agriculture committee

With Purge, House GOP Leadership Reaches New Low

In December 2010, I wrote that “An indicator of the incoming House Republican majority’s seriousness about cutting spending will be which members the party selects to head the various committees.” The final roster ended up leaving a lot to be desired from a limited government perspective. For example, the House Republican leadership and its allies went with Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY), aka “The Prince of Pork,” to head up the Appropriations Committee.

Two years later, the committee situation is about to get even worse now that the House Republican leadership has decided to send a message that casting a vote according to one’s beliefs instead of one’s instructions is a punishable offense. On Monday, four congressmen were booted from “plum” committee assignments for failing to sufficiently toe the leadership line. I suspect that the purge was motivated, at least in part, by Team Boehner’s desire to have the rest of the rank and file think twice before casting a “no” vote on whatever lousy deal is struck with the White House to avoid the “fiscal cliff.”

Three of the purged Republicans are returning members of the 2010 freshmen “Tea Party Class”: Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ), Justin Amash (R-MI), and Tim Huelskamp (R-KS). Over the past year, I have been keeping a loose record of how the freshmen voted on opportunities to eliminate programs and prevent spending increases. On seven particularly telling votes*, Schweikert and Amash voted in favor of limited government every time. Out of 87 freshmen, only Schweikert, Amash, and five others had a perfect record. Huelskamp was six for seven. He also was one of only four Republicans on the House Agriculture Committee to vote against the bloated farm bill that passed out of the committee in July. The fourth outcast, Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), had become an irritant to the Republican establishment after turning against the Iraq War and associating himself with more libertarian Republicans like Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX).

The best that can be said for Team Boehner thus far is that it isn’t Team Pelosi. A common excuse is that House Republicans have been constrained by Democratic control of the Senate and White House. While there is an element of truth to that claim, we’re talking about a House Republican majority that wouldn’t even vote to get rid of the loan guarantee program that led to the Solyndra debacle. The reality is that most Republicans were only ever interested in using Solyndra to score political points against the White House. Ditto pretty much every other White House spending endeavor that House Republicans claim to oppose.

*Votes were to terminate the Economic Development Administration, Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia, Essential Air Service program, Title 17 Energy Loan Guarantees, Community Block Development Grant program, against reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank, and against the Continuing Appropriations Act in September.

Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Farm Subsidies)

The Washington Times says that the upcoming farm bill re-write could “sow division in the GOP.” While House Republican leaders John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and Kevin McCarthy voted against the 2008 farm bill, the new chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), is a dedicated supporter of farm subsidies.

The Times recalls Boehner’s comments on the 2008 farm bill:

“The farm bill has often been abused by politicians as a slush fund for bizarre earmarks and wasteful spending projects, and the latest version … is no different,” Mr. Boehner, then the GOP minority leader, said at the time.

It’s too bad then that the Boehner-friendly Republican Steering Committee, which decided the committee chairs, didn’t appear to blink at handing the agriculture committee gavel to a key supporter of the “slush fund.” And it’s not as if Lucas has been circumspect in his intentions. Lucas’s agriculture issues section on his website, which hasn’t been updated since the Republicans took back the House, makes that perfectly clear:

As Ranking Member of the Agriculture Committee, I have long been a champion of voluntary agriculture conservation programs. During the drafting of the 2002 Farm Bill, I worked to secure the largest ever increase in programs such as Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Conservation Reserve Program, and many others. In the 2008 Farm Bill, I advocated for renewable energy provisions to be included in the farm bill which would allow rural areas to play a larger role in making the U.S. less dependent on foreign sources of energy. I am proud that the 2008 Farm Bill devotes a funding stream to renewable energy research, development, and production….

[I] will work closely with Chairman Peterson and other members of the committee to ensure that cuts are not made to agriculture producers – farmers and ranchers.

Lucas isn’t shy about touting his support from the myriad farm lobby groups either:

I have been proud to receive recognition from various agriculture groups for my work in support of their concerns. The American Farm Bureau Federation has presented me with its “Friend of Farm Bureau” award for supporting Farm Bureau issues in Congress in 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006. In both 2002 and 2003, the National Farmers Union recognized me with the “Presidential Award for Leadership” for issues important to rural America. NFU also recognized me with the “Golden Triangle Award”, which is given to those who have demonstrated outstanding leadership on issues affecting family farmers, ranchers, and rural communities. In 2002 the Oklahoma Wheat Commission presented me with their “Staff of Life” award for voting in favor of wheat growers and farmers 100 percent of the time. And for two years running, the National Association of Wheat Growers named me one of only 11 “Wheat Champion” Members of Congress for superior action in Congress in support of the wheat industry.

Last year, Lucas criticized the Obama administration for proposing some minor agriculture program cuts, including a proposal to limit direct subsidy payments to farmers with more than $500,000 in annual sales.

Frank Lucas criticized the Obama administration for merely wanting to deny farmers with a half million dollars in sales from grabbing taxpayer money, but take a look what he has to say in a section on his website on “lower taxes and government spending:”

Spending in Congress has reached historic levels during the 111th Congress. The fiscally irresponsible behavior of former Speaker Pelosi and President Obama has driven our national debt level to the point that it is almost equal to the size of our entire economy. This is unacceptable and it must stop.

I have opposed – and will continue to oppose – spending initiatives that dramatically increase the size and scope of the federal government while adding to our already massive national debt. I have long been a supporter of tax reform and will continue to fight against increases in taxes and wasteful federal spending. Congress must get back to the business of fiscal responsibility and strive for a balanced budget without raising the taxes of hard-working Americans.

Lucas must know that “taxes of hard-working Americans” are pouring into the pockets of generally high-income farm businesses at the rate of $15 billion to $35 billion annually. While Lucas may be a “Wheat Champion” he sure isn’t a Taxpayer Champion, at least not on agricultural issues.

See this Cato essay for more on agriculture subsidies.

Collin Peterson’s Cognitive Dissonance

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D, MN) is conducting a series of hearings in rural America to tout his support for big Ag listen to the people.

In the third paragraph of page 14 of an unofficial transcript of the recent hearings in Troy, Alabama, Mr. Peterson makes an excellent point about the fundamental inability of lawmakers or Washington bureaucrats to decide which farm size is best. “We are not going to get into the business of deciding how big a farm should be because that’s way beyond our expertise.” Mr Peterson has made cutesy, self-deprecating remarks before about how Washington isn’t smart enough to make farm management decisions. I guess even incredibly powerful incumbents feel some pressure from tea partiers to make cynical asides about Washington.

And yet. Here’s Mr. Peterson, in an interview with a upstate New York newspaper, offering his two cents’ on how to reform (and I use that term in the loosest possible sense) U.S. dairy policy:

When lawmakers map out a new safety net, it will have to include a supply management system to keep milk production in check, Mr. Peterson said…

Supply management could include measures to discourage farms from expanding, as well as a program to spur more dairy exports. In the past, the government has tried buying out farmers’ dairy herds, but production eventually recovered and the beef industry suffered from the low prices resulting from so many cows suddenly entering the slaughter market.

“Production management will have to be in it,” Mr. Peterson said…

As part of the changes, Mr. Peterson said, he also expects Congress will add California to the federal milk marketing system, which sets the minimum prices farmers receive.

So farm size is beyond the federal government’s expertise, but “production management” for dairy farms is not? Make up your mind, Congressman.

I also have concerns with the substance of Mr Peterson’s suggestions for dairy policy. Just last weekend I attended a workshop in Toronto where a graduate student from the University of Guelph gave an excellent presentation on the recent problems in the Ontario quota exchange, the market on which quota rights to produce dairy products in Ontario, Canada are traded.  (The paper on which his analysis was based is not yet available.) Quota rights to, essentially, one cow trebled over recent years to more than C$30, 000. That’s just for the right to milk the cow, mind you. It doesn’t buy you the cow, or even the land or equipment or feed for the cow. Just the right to produce. As the student described the system, it sounded to me like the Canadian version of tulip mania, backed up by soviet-style supply management systems. Do we really want to introduce this sort of insanity to U.S. dairy markets, as if the current system wasn’t ludicrous enough?