David Rogers learned the agriculture beat in Washington as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal. Now he writes for Politico, the political news outlet, but from time to time offers some of the best reporting on what's going on with the Farm Bill. He writes today that negotiators "are staring failure in the face, with a major deadline Friday, continued Democratic infighting and the commodity lobby’s stubborn resistance to altering an outdated subsidy system." Trade issues are also complicating the talks.
In his new role, Rogers is able to be more analytical and pointed, and he gigs the Bush administration: "Having raised the banner of reform, the White House appears to be playing the role of the spoiler, resisting even modest revenue-raisers accepted by House Republicans while refusing to come off the bench and pressure for some savings from direct payments to producers, now costing $5.2 billion a year even with today’s high crop prices."
The biggest stumbling blocks are the Senate's wish for an extra $4 billion in disaster aid, pushed by the National Farmers Union and other interests from the marginal, drought-sensitive row-crop region of the Dakotas and Montana, and $2.5 billion in tax breaks, including one for the horse industry. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) told Rogers, “The tax package will not be in this farm bill. It ain’t going to happen, and the sooner the Senate realizes that, the better.” Peterson dropped the disaster provision in a compromise offer last week, infuriating Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Rogers reports. But Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee has deeper problems with his House counterpart, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel of New York, over Baucus' proposed revenue measures to pay for the disaster aid.
Peterson versus Baucus is really a Minnesota (corn and soybean agriculture) versus Montana (wheat and cattle agriculture) type dispute. I'm generalizing, of course, but there are competing interests at work. You have Southern California and Florida up against the interests of Iowa and Minnesota; you have tobacco growers against horse breeders.
A good place to sort all of this out is The Rural Blog, because I'm not the go-to guy on this stuff, to be honest with you.