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1 May 2016 - Congress, Get Back to Work!

I spent three days in Washington, D.C. last week on an annual junket for farm broadcasters to give us an opportunity to discuss agricultural issues with members of Congress, officials at the U. S Department of Agriculture and agricultural lobby groups.

I have been going to our nation’s Capitol several times a year since 1958. Every time I go I find it to be a very exciting city where policy is debated and laws are passed to guide the most powerful nation on the planet. But I am not excited by the change I have seen in how laws are debated and passed. There was a time when politics was defined as “the art of compromise”, but today I don’t think that word is a part of the D.C. vocabulary; instead it is “my way or the highway” and that leads to gridlock that prevents any major business on Capitol Hill to be finalized.

There was a time when agricultural policy was exempt from gridlock because members of Congress from agricultural states worked together, and compromised, to hammer out a farm bill and farm policy. That’s not the case any more and I heard some members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees from both parties express doubt that Congress will ever be able to write and pass another farm bill. The lack of knowledge of what it takes to put food on our table, clothes on our back, a roof over our heads and energy in our tank is appalling, and if you doubt that, count the number of times that any Presidential candidate has seriously discussed agricultural policy.

The two topics that dominated the interviews I did in D.C. were trade agreements and the war on technology, highlighted by the food labeling issue. There was great concern about the need to approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, particularly in light of the strong opposition to trade agreements expressed by all but one of the Presidential candidates, showing their total ignorance of the importance of trade to our total economy. The labeling issue is centered on the Vermont law that goes into effect July 1st and because of the failure of the Senate to approve a national labeling law is already needlessly impacting food companies across the nation.

Finally, maybe part of the lack of accomplishment in Congress is our fault, taking them away from their job to just say hello, pose for a picture or have their staff arrange tours of the White House and the Capitol. And as we learned in the recent ‘Sixty Minutes’ story, we continue an election system that requires our elected officials to spend part of every day calling supporters to ask for money to fund their never-ending campaign to keep their job. It is a ridiculous situation that must change.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.