Guest Columns

Guest Columnist
Industry Issues

Crazier than usual

Connie Tipton

Connie Tipton is president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association. She contributes this column exclusively for Cheese Market News®.

If you remember that civics course you took years ago in school, you may think you know how our laws are made. “I’m just a bill, only a bill and I’m sitting here on Capitol Hill,” the Schoolhouse Rock song taught us. But if you’ve been paying attention to all of the politically charged rhetoric from Capitol Hill and the White House, you can tell something is amiss in that process.

In fact, right now in Washington, D.C., a place where it’s sometimes hard to figure out what would be considered “normal,” I can tell you that the current state of play on the 2012 Farm Bill (and virtually everything else) is certainly not business as usual.

Current farm policy sunsets at the end of fiscal year 2012 (Sept. 30, 2012) and it’s broadly expected that budget constraints will mean cutbacks in farm program spending. A normal farm bill process would include hearings to allow different perspectives to be heard by the 46 members of the House Agriculture Committee and the 21 members of the Senate Agriculture Committee so they would know the potential impact on people and programs that would be affected by the cuts.

Following normal procedures, IDFA would invite its members to testify at field hearings or ask them to travel to Washington to visit their elected officials on Capitol Hill to help inform the process and advocate for policy changes agreed to by our boards of directors. IDFA staff and hired lobbyists would aid in these efforts to make sure we visited the offices of all 67 Congressional Agriculture Committee members, along with others, so they have the information they need to vote.

Because the vote could spread out to a full floor vote in the 100-member Senate or the 435-member House as well, IDFA will sometimes implement a more robust and comprehensive education and advocacy program. It can be a crazy, time-consuming process, but at least there is ample opportunity to participate and have your opinions heard by a wide body of people.

This year, however, the process on Capitol Hill is different. Instead of 535 members of Congress hearing your case, a “super committee” of just 12 members — six Democrats and six Republicans with an equal number from the House and the Senate – will hear and decide which programs will be cut, which will be pared back and which will be spared altogether. This is not the Democratic process we all know and love.

Each standing House and Senate committee has been tasked with providing a number indicating how much each will commit to cut from the budget for programs under its jurisdiction. In the agriculture committees, the chairs and ranking members of both the House and Senate (that’s four people) have come together and struck a deal, offering to cut $23 billion in spending on agriculture programs. No process, no hearings, no nothing — just a deal made by four people who happen to have seniority. Unfortunately, one of those four is Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, who introduced a current bill that ties milk supply control together with supports for dairy farmers.

I say unfortunate because IDFA and several taxpayer and consumer organizations, such as the Americans for Tax Reform, Consumer Federation of America, Citizens Against Government Waste and the National Taxpayers Union, oppose supply controls. Several recent studies have shown that they will increase consumer prices, cause exports to decline, encourage imports and stifle innovation and growth in our industry. No other USDA farm support or insurance program is tied to a mandate requiring participation in a government supply-control program. Why should dairy farmers and the U.S. dairy industry have to pay this price?

Ultimately, all of this input from standing committees gets kicked to the 12 people on the super committee who are charged with finding cuts totaling $1.2 trillion or more by Thanksgiving. That gives us the equivalent of the old smoke-filled room with back-door deals that brought us many of the policies we live with today, without any ability to represent your views in a rational and open process. Where is Mr. Smith when we need him?

Yes, I’m sure the members of Congress will be thankful they can use this truncated process to sweep unpleasant things under the rug. After all, the Peterson proposal simply shifts costs from taxpayers to consumers, mostly families with children, in the form of higher dairy prices. And, because the government subsidizes the purchase of nearly 20 percent of the fluid milk market, the Peterson bill will significantly increase government spending, ironically in a bill whose purpose is to get government spending under control.

If this process continues as planned, we face the implementation of new complicated policies that will greatly affect the price of our products — and imperil our industry’s future growth.


The views expressed by CMN’s guest columnists are their own opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of Cheese Market News®.

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