Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Rural Democrats feel pain of 'pay as you go' as another Farm Bill deadline looms this month

David Rogers of Politico writes:
Could “pay-go” mean “no-go” for a new farm bill this spring? That’s the question that tortures rural Democrats who pressed hardest in Congress last year for the tougher anti-deficit rules but now find themselves tied in knots, trying to write a plan for producers at home. . . . Failure to meet the next deadline, April 18, will surely increase pressure to punt past this growing season. And the next few weeks could see a desperate endgame in which each side plots to jam the other on how to pay for new spending. If it weren’t so embarrassing, it would be laughable: a Washington comedy of errors that stars warring Senate committees, a farm lobby stubbornly resistant to change and a set of budget baselines that seem to change all the time.
"Pay-go" is short for pay as you go, a rule that requires "Congress to come up with new revenues or savings to pay for any new funding above the baselines prepared by its official scorer, the Congressional Budget Office," Rogers explains. When the House used a "relatively modest tax provision" to pay for its version of the bill, that set off a jurisdictional battle in the Senate, one piece of which is over whether to give disaster benefits as tax credits.

Here's our favorite paragraph in the story: "Government’s whole role in agriculture begins with the notion that the very unpredictability of farming justifies some safety net to help producers manage their risks. Pay-go begins at the opposite end: demanding predictability and requiring detailed cost forecasts five or 10 years in advance from CBO. The task is that much harder, given the ethanol boom and swings in commodity prices."

There's a lot more good stuff that explains a complex topic, with a cherry on top: Rogers writes about proposed tax breaks for "timber interests, farm machinery sales and, yes, race horses." Hey, since the tobacco program was repealed, horses have been Kentucky's No. 1 farm product! But Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has allies on the measure, such as Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Rogers notes. His 1,250-word story is a fine read.

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