Put two sharp political minds together on the same stage and what do you get? An insightful look at the current state of politics.
“The news of the day is Congress is doing to the American farmer what it has been doing to rest of the economy since 2007– creating all this uncertainty. The last poll (showed approval ratings for Congress) at 9%. Frankly, if I were a congressman, I would be too embarrassed to go home.”
That’s how Barry Flinchbaugh, longtime Kansas State University ag policy analyst, got things rolling in a discussion with former U.S. Rep. Charlie Stenholm (D-TX) recently. Showing that his wit, and his tongue, are as sharp as ever, the 70-year-old Flinchbaugh took the House of Representatives to task for its failure to pass a farm bill before adjourning for its August recess.
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Agriculture has been a bright spot in the American economy, Flinchbaugh says, because it had a farm bill it could work with. The farm bills passed by the U.S. Senate and by the House Ag Committee are not that far apart, he says. Agriculture should have had a chance, going into harvest season, to know what type of ag policy it would deal with in the coming years.
Stenholm agrees. “It’s unbelievable that Congress went home without passing a farm bill,” the former ranking member on the House Ag Committee told members of the ag media. But he understands why the leaders in the lower chamber stalled the process – they didn’t have the votes to pass it. “It was going to tear up the Republican Party because they were going to insist on more cuts in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) than they could get a majority vote,” he says.
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“Our political atmosphere is broken,” Stenholm asserts. “I don’t think this election is going to change anything, no matter who is elected, because we’re a divided country on almost any issue you want.”
And that, he says, is unfortunate. “That’s what’s missing today. Compromise is not a four-letter word.”
Looking back to our nation’s founders, he says if our forefathers had not been willing to compromise, we wouldn’t be here today. “You wouldn’t be doing what you’re doing because strong-willed men at the time couldn’t agree. But they realized they had to compromise in order to get that which they did.”
That, he says, is the political discussion the nation needs to come to. “How do you resolve those kinds of differences and do it with the future that our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren are going to need?”
To forge that future, Flinchbaugh says, Congress will need to find the courage to solve the looming fiscal cliff the nation faces. “This is no longer political fodder to be kicked down the road,” he says. “We have got to solve this fiscal crisis.”
His solution is simple. “We all know there’s one way to get out of this mess and that is to cut spending and increase taxes,” he says. “It’s not economic uncertainty that is the problem in this country; it’s political uncertainty.”
That political uncertainty and the state of politics in America today is the challenge for agriculture, Stenholm says. “We’re the best fed nation in the world. Will we be in 30 years? That’s a legitimate question.”