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Dispatch from the asylum

DANIEL LOOKER 12/21/2012 @ 3:26pm Business Editor

As a lobbyist for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Ferd Hoefner takes a clear-eyed view of the dysfunctional world of Congress, whether he's talking about the fiscal cliff negotiations or the rapidly fading hope for a 2012 farm bill. Hoefner's knowledge of farm bill and ag spending legislation goes back to 1977, first as a congressional staffer and since 1988, working for the Coalition and its predecessor group. 

He described the latest  breakdown Friday, in a blog for the Coalition website called "Path to the 2012 Farm Bill: One week to go,  What Next?"

"This is insanity.  Our holiday wish is that the White House and House, Senate, and Agriculture Committee leadership will patch something together next week and avoid a ridiculous, self-defeating new year train wreck," said Hoefner, who is often quoted by Reuters and other news service writers in the capital.

After House Speaker John Boehner's "Plan B" bill to extend most tax cuts was pulled late Thursday due to lack of support in his own party, Hoefner's blog lays out his options.

"Asking the Democrats to come up with their own plan, as Boehner did last night, makes no sense.  Only a deal with Boehner’s name on it has any chance of passing in the House.  So what are the Speaker’s Plan C choices?  It seems fairly clear that there are basically only two," the blog said. 

A potential "Plan C" would be either trying to reach a bipartisan deal with Democrats in the House to  pass a compromise bill, or, "Option two: He could throw the country into disarray by allowing tax hikes, budget-axe sequestration cuts, a Medicare crisis, termination of unemployment benefits, and a big spike in milk prices to take effect in order not to offend the far right of the Republican party."

"How the farm bill factors into this choice is, if anything, more complicated than it was before Speaker Boehner started heading down the Plan B detour route.  The complications are amplified by the very limited number of possible legislative days left in this session — basically December 28 through January 2 — or six days if you assume they work through the weekend, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day, which would be a first," Hoefner wrote. 

"In the meantime, at the other end of the National Mall from the Capitol, USDA is left with the awful holiday season task of preparing for sequestration, staff cuts, and huge (budget busting) purchases of dairy products, while “What’s at Stake” programs continue to twist in the wind," he said. Those programs, which are relatively small compared to commodity title programs like direct payments, include ones for beginning farmers and rural economic development. 

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