When lobbyists cheer, the news can’t be good
As suspected, agribusiness is indeed turning cartwheels over the news that Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln is now chairman of the Senate Ag Committee. The public policy director for the retrograde American Farm Bureau told The Hill, “We couldn’t have handpicked a chairman better than this.” The giant sucking sound you’re hearing is agricultural reform rushing down the drain.
The headline of The Hill’s piece tells you all you need to know: “K Street welcomes Lincoln as the new head of Ag committee” — K Street being the center of the lobbying biz. If you read on, however, you’ll discover all sorts of lovely little Lincolnian tidbits. Did you know that in 2007 Lincoln tried to exempt agribusiness from toxic waste lawsuits? The fact that Tyson Foods, the nation’s largest chicken (and chickensh*t) producer, is based in Arkansas and is a major campaign contributor to her is, of course, a total coincidence.
Oh, and all that oil and gas money she gets is entirely unrelated to her strident opposition to climate change legislation — opposition that is so strong, The Hill speculated she could single-handedly derail it.
Indeed, there is no good news here. Some (including me) have speculated that Lincoln had little hope of reelection come 2010. But now, with money flowing into her coffers and local industry fully aware that, should Lincoln lose, Michigan’s Debbie Stabenow would be in charge of ag in the Senate, Lincoln’s reelection propsects have suddenly brightened.
Meanwhile, Lincoln submitted her first bill related to the school lunch program reauthorization scheduled for early next year — a top administration priority and an area which seemed poised for a significant overhaul. This bill, though minor, offers some insight into exactly how much reform we can expect from her. The answer: Very little.
The bill would require the development of “model product specifications and practices for foods offered in school nutrition programs” such that they meet federal dietary guidelines. I don’t know what’s more depressing. The fact that many school food programs don’t already meet federal dietary guidelines or the fact that even meals that met those guidelines are the opposite of healthy. Either way, it doesn’t appear that we can expect much reform from Lincoln on that front either.
And while we can continue to work to get money out of politics so that our politicians have one less reason to listen to corporate interests, the Supreme Court is about to ensure such an eventuallity never happens.
The only hope for reform, as I see it, is to take the favored GOP strategy and wait for the agribusiness over-reach — in other words, wait for a policy endorsed by the House and Senate ag committees that’s so extreme other congressional players decide they have no choice but to act. A hint of how this might work came in the House food safety bill, which the congressional leadership declined to submit officially to the House Ag Committe because they knew those committeemembers would tear it to pieces.
Is it possible that Lincoln and Rep. Collin Peterson — her counterpart in the House — can misbehave so badly that it finally causes normally lily-livered representatives on other House and Senate committees to take a stand against agribusiness? I have my doubts. But with agribusiness now as well positioned as they’ve ever been to get their way on the big issues facing food and agriculture, it’s pretty much all we’ve got.