It’s been a wild two weeks in DC. In just 14 days, we’ve wrestled with Farm Bill markups in both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, a vaunted rush to complete the Senate Farm Bill on the floor, a bipartisan immigration reform bill – the first since 2007 – approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, and a White House increasingly under fire for a host of reasons. I’m going to give my two cents on most of these since it’s rare Congress demonstrates its efficiency while at the same time exposing its inherent silliness.
First, major kudos to Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D, MI) for not only getting her second Farm Bill in 12 months out of committee and to the floor — that’s got to be some kind of historic achievement — but keeping her cool this week as her colleagues continually blocked her momentum as she waded through 194 mostly silly – and nongermane – amendments. Anyone who thought Stabenow, when she took the reins of the committee 30 months ago, couldn’t handle the job has been proven wrong in spades.
Stabenow wanted to get the bill finished this week and it looked as if she was on her way. It’s never a good idea to let members of Congress go home for 10 days to contemplate their wish lists. However, Stabenow’s mostly male colleagues continually interrupted Farm Bill floor action to “debate” unrelated issues.
Most time consuming was a back-and-forth over whether the Senate should appoint conferees to a conference committee with the House on the FY2013 budget resolutions, and whether instructions to those conferees should include a taboo on discussing raising the debt ceiling. Important stuff no doubt, but not during floor consideration of a major piece of legislation – one carrying a 10-year, $955-billion price tag and one that materially affects 16 million folks employed in the agriculture and food industries. Then there was the spat between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D, NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell over the confirmation vote for a federal judge, and who had promised what to whom. It was reminiscent of a school yard blame game, and several Senators who should have known better kept egging them on.
The Senate Judiciary Committee deserves praise for holding an open series of hearings and markup of the Gang of Eight’s comprehensive immigration reform bill. Yes, it took almost three weeks, but there were over 300 amendments to slog through. Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy (D, VT) kept his word and allowed any and all relevant amendments to be debated, and showing leadership by example, withdrew “with a heavy heart” one of his own amendments – equal immigration treatment for same sex couples – when committee members from both sides of the aisle warned him he might just blow up the whole carefully crafted deal.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R, UT), ranking member of the judiciary panel, showed why he’s Utah’s best weapon on the national scene. He brokered deal after deal for his Republican colleagues, leveraging his ranking member status, but he sided with Leahy when it was the right thing to do. He voted to move the bill out of committee when the final gavel fell, but honestly warned his colleagues he may not vote for the bill on the floor in a couple of weeks if too much mischief ensues.
I’m not so crazy about the overall House reaction to the Senate getting an immigration reform bill through committee. House Speaker John Boehner (R, OH) could have said he was eager to see what the Senate accomplished on immigration reform so it could inform the House pursuit of the same goal. However, he decided instead to very publicly this week announce his chamber would not take up the Senate bill.
I’ll cut him slack because unlike Reid’s chamber, Boehner has a good share of ultraconservative members who have their heads in the sand when it comes to immigration reform. It’s these members who demand we “deport ‘em all” rather than recognize that while it’s reprehensible there are upwards of 10 million “undocumented” immigrants in this country, a good chunk of that number is keeping farming, ranching, food processing and retailing operational. It’s called refusing to deal with the reality of the situation, preferring instead to spout political rhetoric.
As to the White House headaches, well, I learned about them from the media just about the same time you did, and heck, no one told me there were such problems. I just didn’t know.