By Larry Combest

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Last Thursday, at least one senior House member suggested that this past week's hearings on the state of the farm economy may have marked the beginning of the 2012 Farm Bill debate. I believe the whole week may have.

The week was kicked off with the annual nonevent of the President's budget submission to the Congress, which took a pass on addressing giant entitlements such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid but did go after tiny farm policy, including direct payments, pay limits, and crop insurance despite the Secretary's rightly observing to Mike Adams of AgriTalk that agriculture had already contributed to deficit reduction last year in the context of the Standard Reinsurance Agreement (SRA). While I expect that this year's selective parsimony will serve to further alienate rural America more than balance any budget, the SRA cuts are real and the pain they cause will be felt all the way around.

With the President's FY2012 budget as a backdrop, on Thursday the House and Senate Agriculture Committees both held hearings in which it was observed that prices and production are generally strong . . . but that what goes up must come down.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., warned against setting long-term farm policy based on today's rosy economic conditions, a sentiment Texas A&M Professor Joe Outlaw would echo in the Senate just a few hours later.

Besides stressing the danger of establishing long-term farm policy on short-run conditions, the hearings also shined more light on the breathtaking excesses of the extreme environmental crowd and their harmful effects on economic recovery, jobs, national security, and our ability to feed a growing world population.

The full House of Representatives appeared to have heeded the Committees' admonitions on both of these scores during its debate over the Continuing Resolution to fund the government when it considered two amendments attacking U.S. farm policy that were offered by members of the House closely identified with the extreme environmental community.

Over the last couple of years, the radical environmentalists confidently showed their colors in pressing their agenda, but the two amendments considered Friday suggest that they may now be retreating to the ground they are eminently more comfortable on, that of calumny and subterfuge.

Thankfully, this week, they weren't stealthy enough. While the amendments were thinly cloaked as concerned about small farmers and trade rules, on a bipartisan basis the House overwhelmingly rejected them for what they truly were: the radical environmental crowd once again saying one thing while motivated by another.

In short, to the radical enviros' proposition that Congress take the first steps toward dismantling a policy that undergirds a sector which the Fed says is driving America's economic recovery, the U.S. House of Representatives responded with a resounding “no.”

Convincing Congress to put the screws to rural America in order to advance a dysfunctional understanding of environmental protection and animal welfare will just have to wait for another day.

In this regard, the new House, with all of its freshmen members, exhibited the perspicacity of veteran lawmakers in both identifying their friends and foes and reading between the legislative lines, portending positively for America's farmers and ranchers while spelling possible trouble for others.

The two victories that the environmental crowd did see last week were accomplished without them. The amendment seeking to defund E15 prevailed largely due to an unfortunate schism within the farm community and other players, while the CR's proposed cuts to discretionary funding for agriculture, a portion of which is important to our ability to double production to feed nine billion people by 2050, are a function of the fiscal mess we are in. Fortunately, both may be remedied, one wholly and the other at least to the degree necessary to bring cuts into proportion with savings elsewhere.

Today, farm country is fueling economic recovery and jobs creation. Food cost inflation was the lowest last year since 1962 and it is tracking the average rate of inflation this year. Yet, the cost to the taxpayer for the farm policy behind it may be down to an all-time low, about a quarter of 1% of the total federal budget.

It is tough to distort a record like that . . . even for the enviros who come at it with so much experience.

About the author: Larry Combest, a Republican from West Texas, served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1985 to 2002 where he served as Chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence and the Agriculture Committee.

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