Late last year we were warned that milk prices would double if the farm bill didn't get extended, adding one more surprise at the bottom of the fiscal cliff.
Fiscal cliff, sequester, poison pill. It takes a nation in fear to get the government to govern.
"Poison pill" is my own phrase to describe the phenomenon better known as the agricultural "Permanent Law" which would significantly hike the prices of some food essentials if the farm bill should ever expire.
The poison pill was established in the '30s and sets a commodity price support based on a decades old price index. However, some of the prices were much higher then than now. It's tempting to think prices should have been lower, but remember that farming was very labor intensive then, and modern farms produce goods cheaper.
If the poison pill is repealed then a farm bill expiration will allow the free market to set prices. Why won't they repeal it? Because the House and Senate agriculture committees think that a central planning committee is better than the free market. And by keeping alive the threat of a hike in food prices those committees preserve their power.
Is there any reason to hope that some day the House and Senate agriculture committees will relax their grips and let the free market work?
Our own District 11 Congressman Mike Conaway, whose stated goal is to become chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, gets quoted quite frequently in the MRT on topics over which he has no more influence than any of the other 434 House members. But so far he has not explained why the budget deficit has to be burdened by farm subsidies nor has he explained why the threat of astronomical food prices has to hang over us if the farm bill doesn't get extended.
However, I'm optimistic. I'm hopeful that some day Mr. Conaway will have the strength to stand up to agribusiness lobbyists, look them in the eyes and say, "No. This has to end. The people who reelected me are more important to me."
Published in the print edition of the Midland Reporter Telegram on 2/17/2013. Not online.