News and analysis on the global poultry
and animal feed industries.
Richard Sellers
on December 6, 2011
View from Washington

The Super Committee — did 100,000 letters really help?

Despite a good deal of input from the public, the congressional Super Committee failed to make any progress. Now, we wait.

This is the first in a year-long series of columns detailing the impact of policies, changes and personalities in our nation’s capital. 

When I first saw that the congressional “Super Committee,” officially known as the United States Congress Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, received over 100,000 letters, I thought, “How does one make sense out of such a volume of mail in such a short time?” The American Feed Industry Association wrote one of those letters and received a polite response, which boiled down to “appreciating the letter…making tough decisions…doing the right thing.” But really, the magnitude of what needed to be done, the dichotomy of the members and the impossible dream task all seemed surreal, didn’t they?

Did the letters really move them? Were they able to read even a smattering of the 100,000 and make sense of the letters’ cogent points? Probably not. Did it matter? Seems it did not. I’m sure for every letter written, there was a letter touting the opposite.

And, we in DC working on issues, blamed the Hill’s lack of progress on the Super Committee. Surprisingly, the House and Senate did agree on the Agriculture appropriations bill, which includes the FDA. The other 12 bills will be rolled into one. But, did you know that’s for this fiscal year that began this past October 1? What if your employer told you that you have last year’s budget until we tell you differently, and will update you week to week or month to month on your new budget? It’s a good thing government is not a business.

Because of that situation, government meetings are planned and cancelled; folks are recalled and furloughed without pay; and programs start shutting down, without funds to be restarted—maybe some need to shut down, but not agricultural research—because it’s my sacred cow. What’s yours? Medicare? Unemployment? Crop payments? Ethanol? It's difficult making cuts that affect real lives and people, and hurt. But what about the general welfare, the common good?

With my 20 years in Washington, knowing many federal employees has given me a broader perspective on the impact of this process in this area and beyond. And yet, generally speaking, the economy remains relatively strong, earnings are good for corporations and taxes keep rolling in. Yes, there’s those troublesome unemployment and housing issues.

In a larger sense, what are the long term consequences? For the Farm Bill, it’s the loss of even more funding, as “sequestration” or the automatic spending cuts beginning in January 2013 will impact the monies available. Will Congress have the will to follow through with these automatic cuts? The President says they had better be allowed, or he’ll veto any proposed changes. Really? Will this cause Congress’ popularity to rise? Will it lead to a better tomorrow? In this area, people will lose jobs. Is that better for the economy? I wait with bated breath, don’t you?

Maybe they need more letters.

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