Killing bills

Congress inaction
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  November 20, 2007

The Farm Bill, a five-year federal spending bill that allots money for nutrition and hunger-prevention programs, industrial agriculture, and smaller farming operations, was blocked last Friday, and remained in limbo as Congress went into Thanksgiving recess.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin told the Associated Press that lawmakers may not revisit the legislation until 2008 or later. Some senators want to reach a compromise on the bill when Congress returns in December, but with votes pending on Iraq War funding and the energy bill, there’s likely to be gridlock. In the meantime, farmers will have to count on extensions of existing funding (see “Mowed Down,” by Deirdre Fulton, August 17).

The stalemate resulted from a squabble between Republican senators — who wanted to tack on extra amendments to the Farm Bill (amendments largely unrelated to food, or even farming — such as a provision about the estate tax) — and their Democratic counterparts, who complained the additional changes were inappropriate stalling tactics.

At the end of last week, Democratic Senate majority leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, moved for an immediate vote on the bill, in an effort to limit amendments and end the two-weeks-and-dragging debate. But his effort was defeated on Friday, 55-42, mostly along party lines. Both Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins voted against ending debate.

“It is unfortunate that the Majority Leader chose a procedure that prevents amendments from being offered, except for those that have his personal approval,” Collins said in a statement. “That is contrary to the Senate tradition of open debate and amendment on major legislation. This legislation, which reauthorizes many important agricultural, nutrition, and forestry programs, should be considered carefully with Senators having the opportunity to offer amendments. I hope that the Majority Leader will reconsider and allow the standard procedure to apply to this important bill.”

Meanwhile, the federal Energy Bill, which addresses climate change, renewable energy, and the country’s dependence on foreign oil, still has a chance of survival — but in the absence of public vigilance, sneaky politicians may try to strip the bill of its most important provisions.

The bill, passed by both houses this summer, is in conference committee, where legislators vie for the inclusion of certain terms, and the elimination of others.

Barring any big surprises, fuel efficiency standards will likely be strengthened, to US auto executives’ chagrin. The Senate version of the energy bill calls for all vehicles — including SUVs and light trucks — to get to at least 35 miles per gallon by 2020. All four members of Maine’s congressional delegation are strong supporters of raising fuel-economy standards.

Three more controversial pieces of the bill are on shakier ground:

Renewable-energy tax credits — which would offer tax incentives for producing wind, solar, and other types of alternative energy — by cutting off big oil subsidies;

National Renewable Energy Portfolio provisions (like the one that we have in Maine, an REP sets the standard for how much energy comes from renewables);

A renewable fuel standard, which prescribes what amount of ethanol would be mixed with traditional gasoline supplies.

That’s it, just those three little things.

Auto workers, oil companies, and farmers all snarling together in a pit of special interests — it’s not a pretty picture, and it’s one that pulls politicians in all kinds of different directions.

Congressional leaders still say that we’ll have an energy bill some time in December, but it remains to be seen how gutted that bill will be.

  Topics: This Just In , U.S. Government, U.S. Congressional News, Politics,  More more >
| More


Most Popular
ARTICLES BY DEIRDRE FULTON
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   NUMBER CRUNCHERS  |  July 23, 2014
    Maybe instead of devoting still-more resources to food reviews, Maine’s leading news organizations should spend money on keeping better tabs on Augusta.
  •   BLUESTOCKING FILM SERIES SHOWCASES WOMEN'S STORIES  |  July 16, 2014
    Among last year’s 100 top-grossing films, women represented just 15 percent of protagonists, and less than one-third of total characters.
  •   CHECKING IN: THE NEW GUARD AND THE WRITER'S HOTEL  |  July 11, 2014
    Former Mainer Shanna McNair started The New Guard, an independent, multi-genre literary review, in order to exalt the writer, no matter if that writer was well-established or just starting out.
  •   NO TAR SANDS  |  July 10, 2014
    “People’s feelings are clear...they don’t want to be known as the tar sands capitol of the United States."
  •   YOUR GUIDE TO ALL THINGS PRIDE!  |  June 19, 2014
    From the outset, O’Connor says, they were “foward-focused” — they had to be, given that they were basically starting from scratch — and committed to being as inclusive, positive, accessible, and transparent as possible.

 See all articles by: DEIRDRE FULTON