Thursday, July 19, 2007

Grumpy Tim Walberg

As the Agriculture Committee continues its hearings on the 2007 Farm Bill, Congressman Walberg received attention from the state of Indiana, and they are not happy. The headline reads: "Indiana Farm Flex Pilot Survives Farm Bill Attack"-- and the "attack" is coming from Tim Walberg.

So what's Walberg attacking? I'm trying to educate myself on agricultural issues, but I'll probably get something wrong somewhere along the way... feel free to correct me.

Here's what's happening, as I understand it.

Right now, farmers receive subsidies for acreage on which certain "program crops" are grown (like corn, rice, soybeans, etc.), but they are penalized if they grow "specialty crops" on these base acres. But, as Congressman Joe Donnelly from Indiana explains:
Under current law, farmers who wish to grow fruits and vegetables on base acres must forfeit their land’s base classification, disqualifying the land from ever receiving subsidies on program crops produced on that land. These planting restrictions pose a significant challenge to farmers who have traditionally grown tomatoes in rotation with soybeans. Because soybeans are considered a program crop, many farmers are unable to produce tomatoes without paying this significant and permanent penalty.
In other words, farmers are penalized for following a planting cycle that has been used historically, because part of that cycle involves growing "specialty crops" like tomatoes.

To see what the result might be from changing the law to allow greater flexibility and not penalize farmers that alternate between program and specialty crops, the 2007 Farm Bill includes a pilot program. Donnelly further explains:
The pilot program, which is limited to 10,000 acres in Indiana, would allow farmers to plant tomatoes on base acres—those acres which are eligible for crop subsidies—without penalty. In order to participate in the program, growers must have a contract to grow tomatoes for processing and must grow tomatoes as part of a crop rotation designed to achieve pest and disease management benefits.


Under the pilot program, participating farmers will forgo farm payments in the year that that they produce tomatoes with the understanding that the land will remain eligible for crop payments in subsequent years. The pilot program, as written in the subcommittee’s Commodities Title, will sunset with the Farm Bill in 2012.
Thus solving the problem without spending any extra money to subsidize "specialty crops" like tomatoes, but without committing us to an untested policy. It's a calm, rational way of studying the problem.

This is where Congressman Walberg comes in. He doesn't like the idea of only 10,000 acres in Indiana getting this special treatment, because it's not fair to other Midwestern farmers. And he has a point-- I'm sure there are plenty of Michigan farms that would benefit just as much from this sort of thing. Walberg wanted the new program to be expanded to allow more participation.

Then comes the opposition. California lawmakers, apparently, object to the whole thing because they don't see it as fair that some farms can jump in and out of subsidies while others have to stay in the rules all the time. California opposes Walberg's idea, and will only put up with the pilot program because it's in the nation's best interest to see what happens.

And, as committee Chairman Collin Peterson says to Walberg:
The point of having a pilot project is to see what impact this relaxation would have, before we go ahead with a larger effort. We’ve carefully limited the conditions of this pilot, and have focused on this area. This has been worked out in negotiations with the Indiana members and Mr. Cardoza of the specialty crop subcommittee.
In other words: this takes time, relax, let's see what happens before we get in over our heads.

Up to this point, I was actually with Congressman Walberg. But then he loses me in a rather immature move.

Where once 10,000 acres in Indiana were too little, now, since he can't have his way, Walberg believes 10,000 acres is too much. Never mind that it's a small scale program just to study a new policy. Never mind that the program will sunset and be revisited at the next farm bill. Says Walberg:
If we’re not going to do that on an expanded basis, with other states-giving them the same opportunity to compete on a level playing field-I guess I would be willing to change my amendment to strike the whole program.
Grumpy Tim Walberg. If he can't have it, no one can.

And Walberg's new amendment?
But on a voice vote Walberg’s move was defeated by a loud chorus of nos.

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As a freshman Representative, Walburg is showing that he plays well with others. (not!)
You did not let on how funny that radio clip was describing the story. Everyone should follow the first link on this post and "listen" to the radio story, with audio footage of Walberg.

It's too bad they didn't get the "loud chorus of nos" on tape, but that article sure makes Walberg look like a buffoon.

He really does not understand how to cunduct business, does he? I guess we elected someone with absolutly zero business sense-- he's never earned a penny of income out here in the real world of business as an adult, so why am I so suprised he cannot grasp the concept of compromise.
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