Sunday, March 2, 2008

When nothing to lose is a good position

It's astounding how far this country has come in awareness about the US Farm Bill! Newspapers all over the US have editorialized on behalf of Farm Bill reform. Many people are now aware how our subsidy system for commodity crops largely helps already wealthy people, hurts impoverished farmers overseas who can't compete with our artificially cheap crops, hurts small US farmers in poverty, and could be (but isn't) funding the food stamps. Yet we were not able to pull out a win this year. Not in the House, not in the Senate. In both instances, back room dealings undermined real change. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is so eloquent about helping children in poverty (that's not sarcasm..she really is!) and stands at the head of the party that is supposed to care the most about hungry people, encouraged the Dems to back a status quo bill with no change in the subsidy system. Senate democrats won a majority for reform, but because of back room deals didn't get it. They had traded away their position and needed a "super majority" (60 votes) to win. How is this possible? Why didn't members of Congress (especially Democrats) rise up to help the poor and hungry at home and in the world?

I think it has a lot to do with people wanting to keep their seats. Representatives and Senators of farm states have big farm lobbies to contend with. They will have a huge fight on their hands to keep their seats if Big Agriculture turns against them. Don't get me wrong now, there are reform champions in farm states. Senator Durbin (D-IL) and Senator Lugar (R-IN) are the big guns fighting for Farm Bill reform and they are not alone. But they are senior senators with supportive constituencies. Younger reps and senators with less certain support didn't go out on a limb. I think Pelosi was worried about keeping Democratic seats and gave the command for the kids in the hall to support the old tradition of commodity subsidies so they wouldn't lose their seats. So, farm reform failed in Congress.

But wait! Isn't there someone else who can help us? Someone in a position to send it all back to the drawing board? Someone with a veto stamp??? Why yes, there is! President George W. Bush. A man holding a lot of power and nothing to lose. This is exactly the kind of hero the Farm Bill needs. An unlikely anti-hero at this point, but the right guy for this job. Republicans are distancing themselves from him, Democrats paint him as a complete and utter failure, the public that elected him because he seemed to be the "kind of guy you'd want to have a beer with" has found other drinking buddies. But he can be our guy. He has said that he wants subsidy caps and Congress didn't listen. So, here's his chance. Farm Bill reform may not sound like a very sexy legacy, but this could be the most positive accomplishment of his presidency. He can stand up and take the position that is so unpalatable to Big Agriculture. What are they going to do? Make sure he never works in this town again? People may try to say that it's his fault for stalling the Farm Bill if he does veto, but I'd rather have a more just legislation later, than continue a system of social injustice sooner. Bush's "nothing to lose" position makes his veto threat the best thing we have going for us. I hope he uses it.

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