With the battles in Congress seemingly based on a party split, it’s easy to forget that a body of men and women representing such a diverse country have many different agendas and represent vastly different constituencies that involve considerations far beyond party politics.
Scratch members of the House and Senate from south Louisiana, for example, and you’ll probably find them more united over issues like coastal preservation than party labels might indicate.
And as Louisiana members know, the views of the oil and gas industry vary across the country greatly, depending on whether a state is a producer of energy or a consumer of it.
A member from the southwestern United States, where water issues are vital to his communities, might be a rock-ribbed conservative — but suddenly amenable to government regulation when it comes time to apportion the flow of water in the Colorado River basin.
The divisions over the five-year farm bill reprise the economic splits in Congress that have less to do with party than with whether a state has farmers or ranchers. Or more rice farmers than soybean farmers.
What is important? Given massive budget deficits, it’s vital — in days when commodity prices are at highs, not lows — that farm subsidies be reduced.
No one gets to a balanced budget without taking some money out of the subsidies that are uniformly disliked by economists and uniformly sought by producers of various commodities. The current farm bill expires Sept. 30, the end of the current fiscal year.
“This is a different year, this is a year we have to change,” Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said on C-SPAN recently.
While the reductions in supports should save the taxpayer billions over the next five years, a debate continues among farm producers about provisions for their particular crops.
“The legislation in its current form does not provide the necessary safety net for rice, particularly compared to other commodities,’’ said U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. Her concerns also are shared by peanut farmers in Georgia and some other regions about subsidies to their commodities.
Given the crosscurrents of debate in the Senate, look for a similar dispute in the House when it takes up its version of the farm bill.
In each case, the issues will be contentious — but it won’t likely be a straight-up party fight. And that’s refreshing enough.