A Change in Strategy or Tactics?

By Mark Edelman and Barry Flinchbaugh

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



ME. A change of tactics in the policy arena may just be in time for the holiday season. Looks like a bi-partisan farm bill is about to get done in January 2014 and a bi-partisan two-year budget deal was announced last week for consideration and passed the House. Given the last 3 years of confrontation, this was not a predictable prediction.

 

BF.  I wish I had $100 for every time someone said “looks like a farm bill is about to pass.”  Yogi Berra's quote always comes to mind, “It's never over till it's over.”  Maybe it is the holiday spirit, or maybe an increasing number of current Congressional Members who are up for re-election and have concluded their interests are not necessarily the same as the “wingnut” interests at both ends of the political spectrum.  A more robust economy may result if confrontational politics in Washington subside enough to get a budget deal and farm bill done, so that the economic uncertainty is reduced.

 

ME. Perhaps both parties have realized all of the fat has been trimmed out of the 20% budget portion where discretionary spending is allocated.  Across-the board sequestration on discretionary spending ran its course and we are getting close to what is considered politically unacceptable by the “moderates in the middle.”  Size of government is an appropriate topic for public debate, but further cuts begin to harm main stream constituency groups, including defense, research, infrastructure, farm and food safety nets, education, energy, housing and urban development, and management of water and natural resources to name a few.

 

Lets Talk Food

BF.  House Speaker John Boehner did finally send a signal of change with his remarks this past week.  The Republican establishment is beginning to pushback against the “right-wingnuts.”  Speaker Boehner renewed his denunciation of groups that try to defeat GOP incumbents whom they consider too willing to compromise with Democrats. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently took steps to help moderate Republicans in party primaries. Boehner's high-profile remarks will fan the flames.  Only time will tell which side will be successful as we won't know the outcomes until 2014 votes are counted.

 

ME.  Cheering Boehner on were main stream Republicans who watched for 3 years as right-wing groups exercised dominant clout in the party and political process. Right-wing “Tea Partier” nominees may have helped Republicans win control of the House in 2010, but they also helped Republicans lose Senate races seen as winnable, keeping a Democratic majority in the Senate. Former Indiana Senator, Richard Lugar, is a case in point.  He was a respected Senator and Ag Committee Member for years. Lugar lost the primary, but was replaced by a Democrat who won the seat in the general election.  

 

BF.  A new word in the political lexicon refers to being “primaried.”  Being “primaried” refers to the right-wing strategy of identifying candidates, financing them, and helping manage their primary campaigns against incumbent Republicans who are seen as too willing to compromise with Democrats.  For 2014, current House Agriculture Committee Chair Frank Lucas from Oklahoma and current Senate Ag Committee Ranking Member Thad Cochran, both have worked hard this year to get a comprehensive bi-partisan farm bill passed in this Congress, but they are now facing “right-wingnut” primary challenges.

 

ME.  Well Barry, don't leave out Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who is being “primaried.” Then, there is former Senate Ag Committee Ranking Member Pat Roberts from Kansas.  Your Senator is a former House Ag Committee Chair and worked hard to get bi-partisan farm bills passed in the Senate in 2012 and in the House in 1996.  He recently made national news for besmirching his longtime personal friendship with embattled Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius by calling for her resignation to distance himself from moderation and to appear more conservative in his Kansas primary fight against a “Tea Partier” backed candidate.

 

BF. Perhaps the moderate Republican that faces the most serious challenge from the right is Ag Committee ranking minority Thad Cochran.  If the wingnuts are successful in knocking off all of the longtime Ag Committee members who have worked hard to pass bi-partisan farm bills in the House and Senate, there won't be anyone left among Republicans with experience to guide a bi-partisan farm bill through Congress. Boehner's change in tactics may win the current budget and farm bill battles, but the jury is still out on the longer-term strategy.

 

ME.  Neither party was ecstatic over the budget compromise that was announced this week by Congressman Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, and Senator Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat.  Maybe that means it was a real compromise.  Ryan's comments were telling, "To really do what we (Republicans) think needs to be done, we are going to have to win some elections and in the meantime let's try and make this divided government work.  I think our constituents are expecting a little more from us.  They're expecting us to not keep shutting the government down, they're expecting us to pay the bills," Ryan said.

BF.  The deal puts Ryan on the wrong side of several right-wing extremist groups, including Heritage Action, the Club for Growth, and Americans for Prosperity.  These groups have all sharply rebuked Republican leaders and aided insurgent Republican primary challengers who vow never to compromise with Democrats--even if it means shutting down the government or defaulting on the federal debt.  Critics say the groups chiefly want to raise money by constantly inflaming political activists. "They're misleading their followers," Boehner said according to one report from the Capitol.  This Congress to date has a worse track record than the 1948 Congress which Harry Truman famously labeled the “Do-Nothing Congress.” They should be embarrassed.

 

ME. With respect to past right-wing efforts to shut down the government and default on the federal debt, Boehner reportedly said one Tea Party spokesperson told him that they thought they would try the strategy even though they didn't think it would work.  Such actions can snowball in the global economy and send shivers through business networks, financial markets, and global commerce. "I just think that they've lost all credibility," Boehner added.  

BF. Countervailing interest group support will be required for moderates to succeed long-term. Traditionally, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has done little in Republican primaries, but reportedly they helped defeat a right-wing extremist candidate in a special Alabama House primary last month. It will take more than the Chamber.  In addition to business leaders, perhaps farm, banking, and agribusiness interests will need to join the fray to the extent that they see the future leadership of U.S. agricultural policy at stake.


* Edelman is a professor of economics at Iowa State University and Flinchbaugh is an emeritus professor of agricultural economics at Kansas State University.

 


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