“I Know What I Know”

Members of Congress are finally getting around to reading the Farm Bill they approved late this winter after three years of gum bumping, chest beating, and finger pointing. Their big discovery so far?

Many now are shocked (shocked! I say) that the money they thought they had saved in food stamps and commodity programs won’t be saved after all. Yep, the Farm Bill savings is—was—no savings at all.

Golly, I wish I had seen that coming.

Quick as the savings went, it’s hard to say what’s more surprising: Washington spending more money than was budgeted or our politicians being surprised when Washington spends more money than was budgeted.

But, hey, today’s members are politicians first and members of Congress second so blame for this new, costlier Farm Bill now must be assigned. That task began Friday, March 14, with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack testifying before a House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture.

In attendance, interestingly, was the full committee’s chairman, Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, who saw the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “aggressive education or recruitment” of people to sign up for SNAP, today’s food stamps, as one place the now-gone savings had gone. (Links to supporting documents are posted at http://live-farm-and-food-file.pantheonsite.io/in-the-news/)

Vilsack disagreed and defended state efforts “to make sure those who are eligible [for SNAP] are aware of the existence of the program.” This effort, he stressed, is not run out of USDA, something Rogers surely had to know.

Rosa DeLauro, a subcommittee Democrat certainly knew it. When granted the floor she ripped into Rogers’ “education commentary” by noting the flood of “news releases from FSA [the Farm Service Agency, USDA’s farm program administrator] which come out regularly” to alert farmers of their benefits under the Farm Bill.

“ ‘USDA reminds producers of approaching deadline on CRP general signup,” DeLauro said, quoting a USDA press release; “ ‘SURE disaster program deadline approaches,’ ‘Enrollment reminder for direct and countercyclical payments and other FSA programs.’ ”

“My God,” DeLauro opined, “if we can be getting notices out for all of these other programs, we sure ought to be able to get notices out… (on) participating in the food stamp program.”

Kevin Yoder, a Republican subcommittee member from Kansas, took another run at Vilsack and food stamps for what he said was an “NPR article”—it was, in fact, a March 13 radio broadcast—that noted the “$8.6 billion” expected 10-year savings in SNAP had flown out a Farm Bill loophole. Did the Secretary know of it?

Vilsack replied that he had “had no idea” of any loophole.

Yoder then wanted to know if the Secretary would “ensure the intent of Congress (and) find savings in that program?”

Again, since states play an important role in who signs up for SNAP benefits, Vilsack explained, that’s a question better directed at “state legislatures and governors” whose job it is to “look at the best interests of their folks.”

Another subcommittee Republican, Tom Latham, an Iowan like Vilsack, grilled the Secretary for almost every government shortcoming since the fall of the Hapsburgs. “Farmers no longer think USDA is on their side,” announced Latham before ticking off a list of peeves—child labor laws, environmental rules, “meatless Mondays—straight from rant radio.

Vilsack strongly objected to Latham’s charges and noted that he had “worked to get pulled” the meatless Monday idea, proposed Department of Labor rules on childhood farm labor, and an EPA “dust” rule that affected farmers and ranchers.

With the hot air in his balloons gone, Latham retreated to the safety of his own mind. “I know what I know,” he told the Secretary.

Which, it seems, is not to be altered by facts, reality or reason.

Little wonder why Congress got the Farm Bill math wrong: it knows what it knows and everyone else can just shut up.

Try using that logic next time the boss asks why the cows aren’t fed and the corn isn’t planted.

© 2014 ag comm


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