● Today the House of Representatives failed to pass a new five-year Farm Bill by a vote of 195-234. This surprise defeat throws the future of traditional big Farm Bill packages into question. The union of urban and rural political interests that has existed since the 1930s in favor of such legislation may be dissolving. Food stamps, of great interest to urban members, is now a huge financial slice of this legislation. At the same time, many conservatives want to move toward a balanced federal budget, one that would reign in the cost of programs such as food stamps, and, for that matter, agricultural spending in general. The fact is, fewer and fewer members of the House represent rural districts. What now? Either (1) a quick fix by House leaders after the July 4th recess, or (2) the likelihood of another simple one- or two year-extension this September of the current Farm Bill.
● The primary federal agency for technical pest and disease issues involving international trade access is USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). This week, Kevin Shea, a career employee and attorney, was appointed administrator of APHIS. Mr. Shea had been serving as the acting administrator since last June.
● Sequestration is a blunt instrument for federal budget cutting. At large departments and agencies, essential services can normally be protected from the fiscal knife. However, at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative sequestration is cutting to the bone, since almost all of its small budget is absorbed by staff and travel expenses. The result: key trade negotiators are being given furlough days from work and some travel to important international trade negotiations is being postponed or cancelled. This is not how a world power should operate.
● In late May, Rick Tomlinson was promoted from within to lead the California Strawberry Commission, filling a vacancy created by the departure several months ago of its former president, Mark Murai. The California Strawberry Commission, which represents a $2.4 billion agricultural crop industry, is one of the groups that the Northwest Horticultural Council frequently works with on common policy problems, especially in the environmental area. I anticipate Mr. Tomlinson will be active, along with me, on the governing boards of such coalitions as the Alliance for Food and Farming and the Minor Crop Farmer Alliance.
● Political Fruit: One of the most interesting of the young, talented, and ambitious people who have made their way to the nation’s capital to work in politics is the subject of a new biography: All the Great Prizes: The Life of John Hay, from Lincoln to Roosevelt. The author, John Taliaferro, does a fine job of tracing the career of John Hay from a small town in Illinois to Abraham Lincoln’s White House and eventually on to concluding his career as secretary of state–first for Warren McKinley, then for President McKinley’s successor, Teddy Roosevelt. A passage from this book: “[John Hay’s son] was contemplating a career in the diplomatic service, but even his father could not promise him another posting right away. Then something better came up. In June, President McKinley appointed him assistant private secretary, the same position Hay had held in the Lincoln White House. Father insisted he had not helped son ‘even with a word,’ though certainly McKinley was astute enough to value the apple of such a trustworthy tree.”