By Mark Anderson –
While the massive Farm Bill only comes up for approval every five years, some are calling it the “secret farm bill,” since the legislation is reportedly being hammered out behind closed doors “in an effort to reach arbitrary budget cuts to food and agricultural programs that will be proposed to the Super Committee to meet the Nov. 23 deadline,” according to a news alert from the activist group Food Democracy Now (FDN).
Dave Murphy of FDN told AFP that it is urgent to call Congress now [switchboard, 202-224-3121, ask for any House or Senate member by name] in order to stop what FDN sees as an unprecedented end-run around the normal legislative process for a Farm Bill that is seen as too heavily weighted in favor of corporate agriculture.
Notably, the new Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, otherwise known as the Super Committee, is comprised of six Democrats and six Republicans. While some critics have called it America’s “politburo,” it is tasked with “issuing a formal recommendation on how to reduce the deficit by at least $1.5 trillion over the next ten years,” according to its own statements at www.DeficitReduction.gov.
While the Super Committee will look at the Farm Bill’s components for deficit-reduction targets, once that process is done, the bill will go to the full House and Senate for up-and-down votes—with no amendments allowed. Murphy has heard that the Super Committee’s function is creating an incentive to bypass the normal legislative process (substantive committee hearings, etc) and put everything on a fast track.
Tamara Hinton, spokeswoman for the House Agriculture Committee, on Nov. 7 dismissed Murphy’s concern. And while a self-imposed Nov. 1 deadline had been set to complete the Farm Bill, a Senate Agriculture Committee spokesman said on the afternoon of Nov. 7 “the bill is still being written.”
Ms. Hinton added on Nov. 7 that the work on the bill will continue into the evening; and she declined to speculate on what the new deadline may be, only to acknowledge that there is still time for the public to call and register their opinion. However, the intent is to wrap up the bill as soon as possible.
“The effort is ongoing and progressing accordingly,” she told AFP.
The core Farm Bill concern is that lobbyists representing corporate agriculture reportedly have been meeting behind closed doors with four legislators referred to by FDN as the “Four Horsemen of the Farm Bill Apocalypse.” They are: Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) chairman of the House Agriculture Committee; Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), who’s the House Ag Committee’s former chairman; Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who chairs the Senate Ag Committee; and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) a ranking member of the Senate Ag Committee.
Murphy alleges that such secretive molding of the farm bill is a way for the lobbyists and key legislators to ensure that large agricultural concerns survive the budget cuts that the Super Committee may enact under its mandate, and, consequently, organic and family farming could get plowed under. Big-Ag would therefore intensify the established process of using the law to squelch competition.
Even though Capitol Hill recently was inundated with nearly 30,000 phone calls on this matter, FDN says even more calls, faxes and emails still are needed on Capitol Hill to derail this apparent backroom dealing and prevent a Farm Bill formulation that is heavily biased toward corporate agriculture.
“The [completion of the] Secret Farm Bill was supposed to be announced on . . . Nov. 1, but after more than 27,000 phone calls from Food Democracy Now members, you helped stall that process,” FDN told readers of its website. “[We] need your help again to make sure that the Four Horsemen of the Farm Bill Apocalypse hear the voice of the American people—that backroom deals on major policy issues impacting the food that we feed our families, farmers and the environment cannot take place behind closed doors.”
And amid ongoing Occupy DC and Occupy Wall Street protests that AFP has covered—seeing the extreme popular disgust with corporations getting preferential treatment across the board—many members of Congress still seem bent on serving corporations as if they are the only constituents to represent.
SUPER COMMITTEE’S REMAINING DEADLINES FOR 2011
Created by the Budget Control Act of 2011, the Super Committee is comprised of six Democrats and six Republicans (three members of each party from the Senate, and three members of each party from the House).
Notably, the Super Committee’s main deadlines in the near future are during the winter holiday season, a notorious time for the passage of bad legislation (e.g., the Federal Reserve Act, Dec. 23, 1913).
According to the U.S. Senate Periodical Press Gallery, the Super Committee’s schedule is as follows (regarding action on various matters including the Farm Bill):
November 23, 2011: Deadline to vote on legislative proposals.
December 2, 2011: Deadline to formally report proposals.
December 23, 2011: Deadline for House and Senate to vote on proposals—without amendment.