With the 2010 midterm elections in the history books, Republicans have managed to repeat, after just four years in political wilderness, what it took Democrats 12 years to pull off, and Republicans before that nearly half a century.
But, as the saying goes, the more things change the more they stay the same. Anyone living and working in Washington back in 1993 and 1994 could feel a sense of déjà vu all over again this past year and a half as the same issues queued up 17 years ago lined up for an encore. The result then and now was a GOP takeover.
Another similarity between then and now is this: prior to the GOP landslide of 1994, the Democratic caucus was heavily rural but, afterward, it was the Republican conference that was dominated by members representing rural districts. Today, these rural districts give Democrats their majority in Congress. On Nov. 2, rural residents once again decided the outcome of the election.
Yet, some of the same groups that helped Democrats wrap their political car around a tree on Nov. 2 are now hoping to ride shotgun with Republicans. Their contention is that the 2008 farm bill could not politically insulate Democratic members who voted for cap and tax, health care reform, the stimulus and other unpopular legislative initiatives. So, cowboy up and pull the rug out from underneath American agriculture by upending farm policy.
If I could roll my eyes in writing.
First, the advice of these “mad cappers” might just ignore that voters are always more apt to remember an especially bad thing a politician might have done over any good deed. In fact, this is so proverbial that there are fairly funny jokes about it, but none fit to repeat.
In any case, the litany of Environmental Protection Agency overreaches — all of which our mad cap volunteer advisors love — is just an example of the “bad things” that come to mind — including cap and tax — that threaten the viability and competitiveness of U.S. agriculture.
In short, rural America has felt both alienated and under the gun over the last year and a half and that pressure has been building up, and it came to a full boil on Nov. 2.
Second, the mad cappers’ advice might also overlook relatively strong commodity prices and production this year that make the safety net — designed to address price and production shortfalls — less relevant not only to farmers but, in turn, to rural communities where the farmers’ dollars go to prime the economic pump by as much as sevenfold.
Left unaddressed by Congress, 1999 commodity prices and an 1988 drought or 1993 flood under the current farm safety net would seriously test the theory that farm policy does not matter. The temptation to assume a healthy farm economy does not matter to rural residents who are not engaged in farming can be fatal.
In view of all this, my unsolicited advice to rural members of Congress remains unchanged from the days that I served in the House, where I ranked among the most conservative of members. It is the same advice that 60 some people who currently serve in Congress but who will not be around next year might also offer. Sages in Washington may try to persuade you to do a lot of screwy things that hurt your own people.
Don’t do it. In the case of agriculture and farm policy, take my word on it: they matter to our economy, they matter to our culture because they have long been such a part of who we are, and they matter to our sense of respect and reverence for tradition, which in rural America does not go out of style.
America’s farmers and ranchers are already vastly overwhelmed by heavily subsidized and protected foreign competition which our trading partners have adamantly refused to give up even an inch of. From TV ads, from exit polls, and from the election results themselves, I managed to glean a little of what was on the voters’ minds and I remain unconvinced that it was, “go ahead, boys, put the screws to rural America and give away our domestic source of food and fiber and the jobs that go with it.”
On farm policy as well as any other important decision a member of Congress makes in Washington, the question should never be, what do the mad cappers or other know-it-alls in Washington think about this or that, but how does it affect my people, their families, and their jobs?
Put another way, how will it play in Peoria?
Larry Combest of Combest/Sell & Associates is a former congressman from Texas. He serves as a consultant to the USA Rice Federation.