Senators Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Chris Dodd are all running around Iowa telling farmers how much they care about them.
But do the Democratic presidential contenders care enough about farmers to take a break from the campaign trail to fight for farmers on the floor of the Senate?
On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid filed for cloture in order to force action on the Farm Bill, consideration of which has been delayed for months by senators who are playing politics with policy debates that will decide whether family farms and rural communities survive or struggle — and perhaps even fail — in 2008 and beyond.
“The farm bill has been deadlocked in the Senate for nearly a month, despite the bill’s unanimous, bipartisan support in the Senate Agriculture Committee and broad support from the countryside,” says National Farmers Union President Tom Buis, a progressive farm leader who has been arguing for some time that the delay in Senate action on the Farm Bill makes it difficult for working farmers to make critical decisions about how to run their operations.
“There has been plenty of time to move forward and it is disappointing that the Senate hasn’t passed a farm bill, adds Buis. “It is time for Senators to stand up in support of rural America, our producers, consumers and their families, and vote to proceed on this important bill.”
As fall gives way to winter, the NFU president has been reminding senators that, “The winter wheat crop is already in the ground and producers are beginning to make decisions for the upcoming planting season. Producers need to know what kind of farm programs they will be operating under next year”
Pressure from the NFU and other farm groups has finally gotten Reid to move.
A vote on cloture is expected Friday.
It’s going to be a critical test.
“With the end of the year fast approaching, Congressional work days are few and time is running out,” says Buis. “The Senate needs to act quickly to pass a farm bill so a House-Senate conference committee can be appointed, members can approve a conference report and the President can sign a farm bill into law.”
To assure that the Senate gets serious about farm and food issues, Reid will need as much unity as he can muster from Senate Democrats.
Will Clinton, Obama, Biden and Dodd show up? Will they put policymaking ahead of politics, at least for one day?
Or will they decide that it is more important to run around Iowa spouting rhetoric about farm policy rather than to get a real debate on the Farm Bill started in Washington.
If the Democratic contenders need something more to chew on, they might consider this fact: The Farm Bill debate has meaning in states throughout the Midwest — including Wisconsin, Minnesota and Missouri — which will be the critical electoral battlegrounds next November.
If the eventual Democratic nominee wants to get an upper hand going into a race against New York Republican Rudy Giuliani or Massachusetts Republican Mitt Romney, the single best way to do so is by establishing credibility with rural voters. And the single best way to do that is by exiting Iowa and going to where the farm policy debate needs to play out: on the floor of the Senate in which Clinton, Obama, Biden and Dodd are supposed to be serving.