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Ken's Commentary: The Congress That Stole Christmas

“The issue is not about money, it’s about philosophy.”

That has been the most descriptive statement I’ve heard from members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees who are on the joint conference committee that has been trying to merge two very different farm bills into one that can be approved by both Houses and signed by the President.

The task of passing this $100 billion per year spending bill would be great for balanced and pragmatic legislators, but we have very few of them in the House of Representatives and only a few more in the Senate. Thanks to our political war, which has been underway since 1994, we have elected far right and far left politicians and skewed those in the middle to either side as they battle to keep their seats in red or blue states.

Now we, the people, get to pay the price for our actions. A politician, like a lawyer, is a vehicle of those who hire him. We can only blame ourselves for this mess. The problem is that we have to have farm legislation to keep from falling into an archaic set of laws that would do just the opposite of what both parties say they want in the new law: decrease spending and assist those in need.

In the Christmas season, I am sensitive to the needs of others. I don’t want any child to go hungry and no adult to be deprived of good nutrition. I also know that I have only a certain number of dollars to spend or I will wind up in the soup line or the local men’s shelter. There has to be a balance in legislation, and that’s very hard to attain when most of the votes are at either end of the spectrum. If all come to the middle, it is much easier. That requires the one critical ingredient this Congress does not have: cooperation.

As far as the conference committee, it doesn’t appear anything is going to happen, but there may also be a “long game” that has not yet played out for the conservative Republicans.

Even though they are in the minority (consider: they control only the House, while the Democrats have the Senate and the Presidency), there is the perspective that ultra-conservatives will block any attempt at compromise until the next budget and debt limit comes along. That will occur in mid-January and February. If they can squeeze the system hard enough, the majority will have to accept predetermined reductions in government spending, and they will win.

Their gain, if it plays out this way, will surely be a loss for farm and food interests who seem locked in mortal combat on the unresolved legislation.

Walking away from such a complex political situation to adjourn for Christmas is an irony that is more disgusting and painful than I can imagine.

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